1980’s metal is perhaps one of the trickiest eras of metal music to define. Based entirely on the blues and rock n’ roll-inspired metal from the 1970s that was made mainstream by bands such as Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, the 1980s saw a rise in a much heavier sound and heightened stage personae. The genre morphed drastically throughout the decade, kicking off with the hard rock subgenres hair and glam metal and finishing off with thrash and death metal which were far more aggressive and instrumentally complex.
The ‘80s saw metal’s colossal evolution, as more subgenres erupted from the decade than any other era, forever changing the definition of what heavy metal truly is and sounds like. From hair to black, glam, death, speed, power, and thrash, these are some of the best 80s metal bands that remain staples in the genre today.
Here are the Best Metal Bands of the 80s
18. Def Leppard
|Frontman||Joe Elliot (1977 to Present)|
|Origin||Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England|
|Years||1977 to Present|
|Genre||Glam Metal, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Arena Rock|
Considered by many as a staple in the glam metal scene, Def Leppard became one of the most popular in the genre known for their hits Photograph, Hysteria, and Pour Some Sugar on Me. Though the hair metal/glam metal genres have gotten a bad rep over time, it’s undeniable that Def Leppard dominated the radio throughout the first-half of the decade and helped inspire a heavier metal scene towards the latter of the decade.
Originally named Atomic Mass, Def Leppard was formed by Pete Willis, Rick Savage, Joe Elliot, and Tony Kenning at Tapton School in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. The band quickly gained attention and became associated with the new wave of British heavy metal made popular by Iron Maiden. They were signed to the UK branch of Mercury Records and released their debut studio album in 1980, On Through the Night, which was aimed heavily towards American audiences.
The band’s second studio album High ‘n’ Dry featured the song Bringin’ On the Heartbreak which was featured regularly on MTV, making it one of the first metal videos to be featured on the television network and propelling the band into the spotlight. The band’s next release, Pyromania (1983), was considered the band’s true mainstream breakthrough and featured the hit singles Photograph, Too Late for Love, and Rock of Ages. Their next album, Hysteria (1987) was their best-selling to date, peaking at number one on the Billboard 200 Albums chart and selling over 20 million copies globally.
Hysteria featured the hits Pour Some Sugar on Me, Love Bites, and Hysteria, all of which remain some of the band’s most notable songs. The album was well received by music critics and fans, with AllMusic giving the album a five-star rating, stating that “Pyromania’s slick, layered Mutt Lange production turned into a painstaking obsession with dense sonic death on Hysteria, with the result that some dismissed the record as a stiff, mechanized pop sell-out.”
Considered not only a staple in the glam metal scene but a staple in ‘80s popular music as a whole, Def Leppard managed to become one of the most recognizable names of the decade and remain a classic radio must-have.
17. Mötley Crüe
|Frontman||Vince Neil (1981 to Present), John Corabi (1992 to 1996)|
|Origin||Los Angeles, California|
|Years||1981 to 2015, 2018 to Present|
|Genre||Heavy Metal, Glam Metal|
Comprised of the iconic quartet Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, and Mick Mars, Mötley Crüe is one of the most successful glam metal bands of the 1980s, known particularly for their stereotypical rock n’ roll lifestyles, androgynous personae, and as one of the first bands to characterize the glam metal/hair metal scene.
The band released their debut studio album shortly after their formation in 1981, Too Fast for Love. The album was received well, reaching number 77 on the Billboard 200 Album chart, though the release of their second studio album in 1983, Shout at the Devil, was considered to be their true breakthrough album. Featuring the songs Looks That Kill, Too Young to Fall in Love and the album’s title track, Shout at the Devil reached number 17 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart, though it has since been awarded 4x Platinum.
Mötley Crüe saw major mainstream success with the release of their fifth studio album, Dr. Feelgood, which went on to top the Billboard 200 Albums chart and has been regarded by critics and listeners as the bands best and most iconic album. The tracks Kickstart My Heart, Dr. Feelgood, Without You, Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.), and Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away) were all well received singles.
Though glam metal was generally criticized throughout the decade for being overly flashy and shallow, critics received Mötley Crüe relatively well, with AllMusic sating that the band “savored the joys of trashy, unapologetically decadent fun,” while other publications have featured the band on their “best of lists,” with Loudwire featuring them on their list of the greatest metal bands of all-time, ranking them at number 22.
|Frontman||Steve “Zetro” Souza (1986 to 1993, 2002 to 2004, 2014 to Present), Paul Baloff (1982 to 1986, 1997 to 1998, 2001 to 2002), Rob Dukes (2005 to 2014)|
|Years||1979 to 1993, 1997 to 1998, 2001 to Present|
One of the lesser known thrash bands of the decade in regard to mainstream radio, Exodus is considered by many as one of the most influential metal bands, known as the kings of the Bay Area alongside fellow thrash giant Metallica.
Formed by Kirk Hammett and Tim Agnello in 1979, Exodus was heavily inspired by the new wave of British heavy metal and often covered songs that were popular during that time. After becoming a notable band in the Bay Area, they released their debut studio album in 1985, Bonded by Blood, which became a cult classic. AllMusic wrote positively of the album, stating that “had it been released immediately after it was recorded in 1984, [it] might be regarded today alongside Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All as one of the landmark albums responsible for launching the thrash metal wave.”
Though the big four currently stands as is, many have debated over the years that it should be the big five, with Exodus as the fifth figure, considering their early contributions to the thrash metal scene. Scott Ian of Anthrax has stated that “back then it was really the ‘Big Five’ because Exodus was just as important and just as influential as everybody else,” while VH1 stated that “true [metal] devotees know that Big Five is the actual proper figure and that Exodus is the band that completes the quintet.”
|Frontman||Conrad “Cronos” Lant (1979 to Present)|
|Origin||Newcastle upon Tyne, England|
|Years||1978 to 1992, 1995 to 2002, 2005 to Present|
|Genre||Thrash Metal, Speed Metal, Black Metal|
English metal band Venom is considered as one of the true pioneers of some of metal’s greatest subgenres, including black, thrash, death, and extreme metal.
Patched together with musicians from an array of bands, Venom came to fruition in 1978 after being inspired by metal artists such as Black Sabbath, Motörhead, Judas Priest, and the Sex Pistols. After releasing a handful of singles, the band released their debut studio album in 1981, Welcome to Hell, which was far heavier and faster than the majority of bands at the time, making the band an early influence in thrash metal.
The band’s second studio album Black Metal was released in 1982 during the new wave of British heavy metal that exploded with bands such as Iron Maiden and Motörhead. The album lent its name to the black metal subgenre, though critics and fans often debate whether or not the album is truly black or thrash metal. Black Metal was widely acclaimed by the underground metal scene and has since been considered as one of the most important metal albums of all-time, with Panteras frontman Phil Anselmo stating that he has the demon face featured on the albums cover art on his back and that the album itself is one of his “five essential metal albums.”
Though Venom never went fully mainstream like Iron Maiden at the time, it’s undeniable that they’ve had a major influence on bands who fore-front the genre today and have maintained a cult status among metalheads across the globe.
14. Judas Priest
|Frontman||Al Atkins (1969 to 1973), Rob Halford (1973 to 1992, 2003 to Present), Tim “Ripper” Owens (1996 to 2003)|
|Years||1969 to Present|
One of the early pioneers of the classic 80s heavy metal sound, Judas Priest was defined by their operatic vocals and bold “leather-and-studs” attire.
Though the band formed in 1969, it wasn’t until the release of their fifth studio album in 1978, Killing Machine, that pushed them into the mainstream. The album defined their sound that was ever-present on their sixth studio album, British Steel, which is considered by many as one of the defining heavy metal albums of the 1980s, with Sepultura’s vocalist Max Cavalera stating that “British Steel is the essential thrash metal album everyone needs to hear. I’m sure you can ask Metallica, if it wasn’t for British Steel they wouldn’t be here.”
After the success of British Steel and its leading single Breaking the Law, Judas Priest saw continued mainstream notoriety with the release of their follow-up albums, Screaming for Vengeance (1982), Defenders of the Faith (1984), Turbo (1986), and Ram It Down (1988).
Judas Priest has since been regarded as one of the most influential at the beginning of the decade, with The Guardian stating that “Blue Steel is the record that, more than any other, codified what we mean by heavy metal.” They have also been highly praised by the LGBTQ+ community, as vocalist Rob Halford came out as gay in 1998 after struggling with revealing his sexuality for a number of years. Deeming himself as “the stately homo of heavy metal,” Halford has described his happiness and confidence since coming out, stating that it was “the greatest thing I could have done for myself.”
|Frontman||Chuck Schuldiner (1984 to 2001)|
|Origin||Altamonte Springs, Florida|
|Years||1984 to 1996, 1998 to 2001|
One of the most influential metal bands of the ‘90s, Death began their career at the tail-end of the 1980s, releasing some of their most iconic albums, Scream Bloody Gore (1987) and Leprosy (1988) which remain a few of the most important death metal albums of all-time.
Formed in 1984 by vocalist Chuck Schuldiner, Death became immersed in the death metal genre that was uprising in Florida, dominating the underground scene. The band got their start when they released numerous rehearsal tapes that caught the attention of tape-traders who helped establish their name in the metal scene. The band was signed to Combat Records in 1986 and subsequently released their debut studio album Scream Bloody Gore the following year.
Scream Bloody Gore was a major stepping stone in the evolution of metal and is considered by many as the true first death metal album, with AllMusic stating that the album “defined the core elements of death metal.” The band’s second studio album Leprosy was released in 1988 and continued to expand on the emerging death metal sound in songs such as Pull the Plug and Left to Die. The album became a cult success and was later featured at number one on Rock Hard Magazines 25 most important death metal albums of all-time list.
A true pioneer in modern metal, Death remains one of the most influential authentic metal artists of all-time, never deviating from their roots. Death disbanded in 2001 following the death of frontman Schuldiner, “The Godfather of death metal,” at the age of 34.
|Frontman||Ronnie James Dio (1982 to 2010)|
|Origin||Cortland, New York|
|Years||1982 to 2010|
Once the frontman of Black Sabbath, legendary vocalist Ronnie James Dio went on to form his own band, Dio, after departing from the band in 1982 which has since been regarded as a cult band within the genre, with songs like Holy Diver and Don’t Talk to Strangers remaining metal classics.
After Dio and drummer Vinny Appice departed from Black Sabbath, the pair immediately joined forces and released their debut studio album as Dio, Holy Diver, in 1983 alongside bassist Jimmy Bain and guitarist Jake. E. Lee. The album was a success, with the hits Rainbow in the Dark and the album’s eponymous single appearing regularly on MTV throughout the early 1980s.
IGN ranked Holy Diver at number 8 on their Top 25 Metal Albums list, stating that “to best represent Ronnie James Dio’s tenure in the genre, one must look no farther than Holy Diver. His first album with his new band was also his best. It is one of metal’s best albums, and it spawned two of the greatest metal songs of the ‘80s: ‘Holy Diver’ and ‘Rainbow in the Dark’.”
Dio released three subsequent albums throughout the 1980s, The Lat in Line (1984), Sacred Heart (1985), and Dream Evil (1987), and continued to release music until 2010 when Ronnie James Dio died of stomach cancer at the age of 67. Since his passing, Dio has been regarded as one of the most influential metal vocalists of all time for his work with Dio, Black Sabbath, Rainbow, and Whitesnake.
Rolling Stone Magazine described Dio’s legacy, stating that “it wasn’t just his mighty pipes that made him Ronnie James Dio. It was his moral fervor… what always stood out was his raging compassion for the lost rock & roll children in his audience. He sang as an adult assuring us that we weren’t alone in our suffering, and someday we might even be proud of conquering it.”
|Frontman||Bon Scott (1974 to 1980), Brian Johnson (1980 to Present)|
|Origin||Sydney, New South Wales, Australia|
|Years||1973 to Present|
|Genre||Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Blues Rock|
Having emerged in the 1970s, AC/DC released one of their most important albums at the dawn of the 1980s, Back in Black, the second best-selling album by any artist of all time. The album not only featured an array of hits that remain some of the bands most popular songs to date, such as Hells Bells, Back in Black and You Shook Me All Night Long, but it remains one of the most important albums in music history, inspiring artists across all genres for the past four decades.
After seeing great mainstream success throughout the late 1970s with their albums High Voltage, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and Highway to Hell, AC/DC continued to tour heavily and release music throughout the ‘80s that remained true to their classic sound. The ‘80s was a new era for the band, as their lead singer Bon Scott died in 1980 and was replaced by Brian Johnson, who has remained the band’s frontman since.
AC/DC released their seventh studio album later that year, Back in Black, to critical acclaim. With over 50 million copies sold worldwide, the album currently stands as the second best-selling album of all time and is certified 25x Platinum. At the time of its release, Rolling Stone Magazine reviewed the album stating that it is “the apex of heavy-metal art: the first LP since Led Zeppelin II that captures all the blood, sweat, and arrogance of the genre.”
Though the band’s sound teeters on the metal genre (and they’ve claimed themselves that they are “rock n’ roll”), they’re certainly worth mentioning due to the sheer impact they’ve had on the rock genre and heavier music genres as a whole. They remain one of the most influential music groups of all time, inspiring numerous artists across a variety of genres throughout the past, nearly five, decades.
|Frontman||Glenn Danzig (1987 to Present)|
|Origin||Lodi, New Jersey|
|Years||1987 to Present|
Punk-rock and horror-core legend Glenn Danzig of the Misfits and Samhain embarked on a metal career in the late 1980s, forming the band Danzig which extended the classic sound of the late horror-core band to metalheads across the globe with iconic songs such as Mother, Twist Of Cain and Am I Demon.
Samhain changed their name to Danzig in 1986 before releasing perhaps their most iconic eponymous debut studio album in 1988. The band subsequently went on tour with Metallica and Slayer before embarking on their own where they featured opening acts such as White Zombie and Mudhoney.
Though Danzig released only one album during the ‘80s, the band’s influence at the tail-end of the decade went on to inspire a plethora of metal acts throughout the ‘90s, such as Death and Pantera. Glenn Danzig offered a fresher take on the classic Misfits sound at this time, which was highly praised by music critics with Thrasher stating that “Glenn Danzig has built up a new unit that’s so damn powerful, so relentlessly brutal, it staggers the senses just to comprehend.”
Rolling Stone Magazine listed their debut album at number 23 on their 100 Greatest Metal Albums list in 2017.
|Frontman||Lemmy Kilmister (1975 to 2015)|
|Years||1975 to 2015|
|Genre||Heavy Metal, Hard Rock|
Motörhead became one of the most influential English metal bands at the beginning of the 1980s with the release of their iconic heavy metal album, Ace of Spades, which went on to inspire numerous subgenres of metal towards the end of the decade and into the 1990s, such as speed and thrash metal.
The band formed in 1975, propelling into the spotlight with the release of their second and third studio albums, Overkill and Bomber, both released in 1979. In 1980 the band released perhaps their most recognizable album, Ace of Spades. The album was the band’s biggest commercial success and reached the number 4 spot on the UK Albums Chart, while the hit single of the same name reached number 15 on the UK Singles Chart. In 2020 it was featured on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time List, coming in at number 408.
Ace of Spades has since been credited as a crucial album in the development of the thrash genre, and the album’s eponymous single as the band’s true anthem. BBC Music has stated that “if ever a piece of music was a manifesto for the mad, bad and dangerous to know partly then the title track is it. Unrepentant and full of hell, there’s not one note out of place.”
Motörhead disbanded in 2015 after exactly four decades of touring and releasing music together following the death of frontman Lemmy Kilmister at the age of 70. Kilmister’s death shook the metal community, and tributes were paid by fellow metal bands Metallica, Anthrax, Black Sabbath, and Alice Cooper. Regarding Kilmisters death and his impact on the metal genre, The Daily Telegraph stated that “Lemmy remained the grizzled heart of the machine [Motörhead]. His bronchial rasp, directed into a towering microphone tilted down into his weather-beaten face, was one of the most recognizable voices in rock.”
|Frontman||Donny Hart (1981 to 1987) Phil Anselmo (1988 to 2003)|
|Years||1981 to 2003|
|Genre||Thrash Metal, Groove Metal|
Perhaps known best for dominating the groove metal genre during the 1990s with their albums Cowboys From Hell (1990), Vulgar Display of Power (1992), and Far Beyond Driven (1994), Pantera began as a glam metal band in the early 1980s before shifting their sound into what they’re known for today.
Pantera formed in 1981 and began touring across their home state of Texas, as well as Louisiana and Oklahoma, becoming an underground favorite rather quickly. After supporting bands on tour such as Quiet Riot, Stryper, and Dokken, the band released their first three glam metal albums, Metal Magic in 1983, Projects in the Jungle in 1984 and I Am the Night in 1985. The albums gained little notoriety, though the band remained a local cult favorite.
As thrash metal emerged with bands like Metallica and Slayer dominating the metal scene, Pantera became interested in making heavier music. The band recruited Phil Anselmo as their new vocalist and released their fourth studio album, Power Metal, which showcased their new and improving sound. The album was described by AllMusic as “an interesting and transitional early effort from one the most important metal bands of the ‘90s.”
Pantera’s career was cut short in 2003 after the death of Dimebag Darrell at the age of 38, who was murdered onstage during a live performance in Columbus, Ohio. Darrell’s death came as a complete shock to many, though he remains one of the most important guitarists of all time. Pantera has held an annual concert in memory of Dimebag Darrel since 2010 and donated to the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund. Pantera is without a doubt one of the best 80s metal bands and certainly deserves a spot towards the top of this list!
7. Black Sabbath
|Frontman||Ozzy Osbourne (1968 to 1977, 1978 to 1979, 1985, 1992, 1997 to 2006, 2011 to 2017), Ronnie James Dio (1979 to 1982, 1991 to 1992, 2006 to 2010)|
|Years||1968 to 2006, 2011 to 2017|
Often cited as the most influential metal band of all-time and one of the most influential in the music industry as a whole, Black Sabbath paved the way for metal in the early 1970s with the release of their legendary albums Paranoid (1970), Master of Reality (1971) and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973). Though the band gained major attention throughout the ‘70s, the band returned in 1980 with one of their most recognizable albums, Heaven and Hell, which featured the vocalist Ronnie James Dio for the first time.
After frontman Ozzy Osbourne’s departure from the band in 1979, Sharon Arden (Osbourne’s now wife) suggested that Ronnie James Dio of Rainbow would be a good replacement vocalist. Though Dio’s vocals were vastly different from Osbourne’s, the band’s other members claimed that the change was a positive and that Dio gave them a new perspective on writing.
Black Sabbath’s debut album with Dio, Heaven and Hell, was released in 1980 and became an instant commercial success, reaching number 28 on the Billboard 200 chart and becoming certified platinum with over a million sales. Featuring the hit singles Heaven and Hell, Children of the Sea and Neon Knights, the album has been featured on numerous “best of” lists, including Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All-Time list, coming in at number 37.
Despite the albums commercial success, critics and fans felt conflicted about Dio as Black Sabbath’s new vocalist, with guitarist Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society stating that “you listen to Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio in it, and it’s not Black Sabbath,” while music author Mick Wall stated in his novel Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe that “the reborn Black Sabbath, with their glistening new sound, an incomparable new singer and top-drawer new album, were seen as part of a widespread revival in rock fandom.”
6. Ozzy Osbourne (& band)
|Frontman||Ozzy Osbourne (1980 to Present)|
|Origin||West Sussex, England|
|Years||1980 to Present|
After departing from Black Sabbath in1979, Ozzy Osbourne embarked on a solo career with an array of talented musicians, from Randy Rhoads to Zak Wylde.
Ozzy Osbourne kicked off his departure from Black Sabbath with his debut studio album in 1980, Blizzard of Ozz. Featuring the major hits Crazy Train and Mr. Crowley, the album was an outstanding commercial success, with Crazy Chain peaking at number 9 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Airplay chart and earning double Platinum status. The song has since become a classic in the rock and metal genres, with radio stations across the world continuing to play the track regularly. Osbourne’s second studio album Diary of a Madman (1981) was Randy Rhoads last, though his guitar remains one of the reasons why Osbourne’s career after Black Sabbath was just as successful, with BBC Music stating that “the album is a classic in every way, lifted out of the ordinary by the legendary rock axe god, Randy Rhoads.”
Osbourne’s third studio album Bark at the Moon (1983) featured Jake E. Lee in place of Rhoads, who remained with Osbourne until 1987 when Zakk Wylde joined and was featured on No Rest for the Wicked the following year, making the album his recording debut at the age of 21.
No Rest for the Wicked was the last of Osbourne’s ‘80s albums, signing off the decade just as much of a legend as he was with Black Sabbath, and creating a career for the young Wylde who went on to form the popular metal band, Black Label Society.
|Frontman||Neil Turban (1982 to 1984), John Bush (1992 to 2005, 2009 to 2010), Joey Belladonna (1984 to 1992, 2005 to 2007, 2010 to Present)|
|Origin||New York City, New York|
|Years||1981 to Present|
|Genre||Thrash Metal, Speed Metal, Groove Metal, Alternative Metal|
Credited as one of the creators of the iconic thrash and speed metal sounds, Anthrax became one of the leading brands from the East Coast at the dawn of the 1980s, known for their often-humorous lyrics that allude to comic books and Stephen King novels.
After recording their first demo tape in 1982, Anthrax began touring across New York and New Jersey before releasing their debut studio album in 1984, Fistful of Metal. The album featured the song Metal Thrashing Mad which was described as “thrash metal” by music journalist Malcolm Dome, who is credited with creating the name of the genre in response to the track. The following year Joey Belladonna took over as the band’s vocalist, forever changing the band’s sound into what they’re known for today.
The bands second studio album, Spreading the Disease was released in 1985 and was received well by critics and fans, with British music author Joel McIver stating that the album is “the sound of pure determination, at a point in metal history where boundaries were being pushed every day.” Anthrax’s next album, Among the Living, garnered even more attention and is considered by many as their true breakthrough album.
Dedicated to the late Metallica bassist Cliff Burton, Among the Living was released in 1987 and featured the singles Indians, I Am the Law and I’m the Man, which remain metal staples today. The album solidified the band as a part of the big 4 of metal and is considered by many as one of the heaviest thrash albums of all time.
|Frontman||Tom Araya (1981 to 2019)|
|Origin||Huntington Park, California|
|Years||1981 to 2019|
Perhaps the heaviest band in the big 4, Slayer rose to prominence in the mid-1980s with the release of their iconic album in 1986, Reign in Blood, which solidified them as one of the most important bands in the thrash genre and a leading influence in the creation of death metal and other subgenres of metal.
Slayer got their start in the early 1980s when they began performing at clubs across Southern California, covering songs from early metal legends Black Sabbath and Venom. In 1983 the band was discovered by Brian Slagel, CEO of Metal Blade Records, who signed the band after they recorded the song Aggressive Perfector which featured on the record labels compilation album, Metal Massacre III. Slayer released their debut studio album shortly after, Show No Mercy, and began touring regularly across California.
In 1985 Slayer released their second studio album, Hell Awaits, which attracted metalheads internationally. The band’s follow-up album Reign in Blood propelled the band into the mainstream, with songs like Angel of Death and Raining Blood becoming instant classics. The album has since been critically and socially acclaimed, with AllMusic stating that the album is “one of the most influential and extreme thrash metal albums.”
Slayer continued to dominate the heavier side of metal throughout the 1980s, earning them a spot in the big 4 of metal alongside Anthrax, Metallica, and Megadeth. They have since been regarded as one of the most influential metal bands of all time, with Johan Reinholdz of the band Andromeda stating that “Slayer were crucial in the development of thrash metal which then became the foundation for a lot of different subgenres. They inspired generations of metal bands.”
|Frontman||Dave Mustaine (1983 to 2002, 2004 to Present)|
|Origin||Los Angeles, California|
|Years||1983 to 2002, 2004 to Present|
|Genre||Thrash Metal, Speed Metal|
Thrash legend Megadeth became one of the most successful bands of the decade with the release of their albums Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! and Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? landing them a spot in the big 4 of metal.
After Metallica’s lead guitarist Dave Mustane was fired from the band in 1983 shortly after the release of Kill ‘Em All, Mustane went on to front his own three-piece band, Megadeth. After recording their debut demo tape in 1984, the band was signed to Combat Records and released Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! the following year. The album was praised highly by critics and received underground attention from die-hard metalheads. The album was also the first to feature the band’s iconic mascot on the album art, Vic Rattlehead.
At the tail-end of 1986, Megadeth released their highly anticipated second studio album, Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?, which helped promote the thrash and extreme metal scene of the late 1980s that trumped the ever-dying glam metal. The critically acclaimed album has since undergone cult status, with music journalists and fans deeming the album as one of the most important of all time, alongside Slayer’s Reign in blood and Metallica’s Master of Puppets. The album was featured on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All-Time list in 2017 at number 8.
Since Megadeth’s beginnings in the mid-1980s, the band has become a favorite of metalheads across the globe. Not only did they help pioneer one of the biggest subgenres of metal, but they remain one of the heaviest bands of the decade, with songs like Peace Sells and Holy Wars. The Punishment Due breaking heavy music standards in the best way possible.
2. Iron Maiden
|Frontman||Paul Day (1975 to 1976), Dennis Wilcock (1977), Paul Di’Anno (1978 to 1981), Blaze Bayley (1994 to 1999), Bruce Dickinson (1981 to 1993, 1999 to Present)|
|Years||1975 to Present|
One of the most legendary bands of all time, English heavy metal giant Iron Maiden became a major influence for metal artists towards the end of the 1970s, though they continued to release a variety of albums throughout the 1980s that remain classics in the metal genre and some of their most admired work to date.
The band was formed on Christmas day, 1975 by bassist Steve Harris. They began touring at numerous pubs throughout London, most notably at the Cart and Horses Pub, which has since officially been named “The Birthplace of Iron Maiden.” The band saw an array of line-up changes before releasing their eponymous debut studio album in 1980, which reached number 4 on the UK Albums Chart.
Shortly after the release of their album, Iron Maiden recorded their first live video, titled Live at the Rainbow. Clips from the video began circulating on MTV, making them the first metal band to ever appear on the iconic television network. The band’s feature helped them receive mainstream attention, and by the release of their second album in 1981, Killers, the band had achieved cult status and was their first to feature on the USA Albums Chart, reaching number 78 on the Billboard 200.
In 1982 the band adopted a new frontman, Bruce Dickinson, who forever changed the sound of the band and has remained the band’s vocalist since. Iron Maiden’s debut album with Dickinson was released later that year, The Number of the Beast, which has since been regarded as one of the most important metal albums of all time, with AllMusic stating that it is “among the top five most essential heavy metal albums ever recorded. A cornerstone of the genre.”
The band went on to release four more albums throughout the decade, Piece of Mind (1983), Powerslave (1984), Somewhere in Time (1986), and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988).
Now credited with forefronting the new wave of British heavy metal in the 1980s, Iron Maiden remains one of the most influential heavy bands of all time, selling over 200 million records across the globe. They have been cited as the first metal band ever featured on MTV, forever changing the direction of the television network that introduced heavier music to ‘80s and ‘90s youth. Iron Maiden has certainly earned its reputation as one of the best metal bands of the 80s.
|Frontman||James Hetfield (1981 to Present)|
|Origin||Los Angeles, California|
|Years||1981 to Present|
|Genre||Thrash Metal, Speed Metal, Heavy Metal|
Despite being crucial players in the 1980s thrash metal scene, Metallica went on to become one of the most successful metal bands of all time, experimenting with different forms of metal, rock, and even country throughout their four-decade-long career.
Metallica formed after drummer Lars Ulrich moved to the United States from Denmark in hopes of creating a band. Ulrich posted an advert in The Recycler, an L.A. newspaper, which caught the attention of James Hetfield and Hugh Tanner of the hard-rock band Leather Charm. Metallica came to be just five months after Hetfield and Ulrich met in 1981. Dave Mustaine joined the band shortly after seeing Metallica’s advertisement in search of a lead guitarist. They recorded the song Hit the Lights which was featured on the Metal Massacre I compilation, which quickly gained attention.
Metallica’s debut studio album Kill ‘Em All was released in 1982. The album wasn’t immediately successful, though it garnered underground attention and has since reached cult status. Mustaine was replaced by Kirk Hammett of Exodus, who has remained the band’s lead guitarist since.
The band’s second studio album was released in 1984, Ride the Lightning, and their third in 1986, Master of Puppets, which is considered by many as their greatest album of all-time, as well as their true breakthrough album. Featuring classics such as the album’s title track, Welcome Home (Sanitarium), Orion, Battery, and The Thing That Should Not Be, Master of Puppets has been listed on numerous “best of” lists, where it has ranked as the second-best metal album of all-time by Rolling Stone Magazine, and at number 97 on their 500 greatest albums of all-time list.
After the death of bassist Cliff Burton, Metallica released their final album of the 80s, …And Justice for All in 1988, with Jason Newsted as their new bassist. The album became a major success, as the music video for the hit single One was regularly featured on MTV while the other singles Harvester of Sorrow and Eye of the Beholder rose in popularity. Described as “a marvel of precisely channeled aggression” by AllMusic, the album solidified Metallica’s spot as one of the big 4 of metal and as one of the most influential heavy music artists of all time.
That does it for this list, let us know who your favorite ‘80s metal bands are in the comments below.
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