The Best Heavy Metal Music of the 1980s

Heavy metal musicians and fans faced considerable criticism during the 1980s for engaging in criminal behavior, becoming despondent or even taking their lives. Defenders of metal’s genre argued that its exploration of madness and horror actually helped articulate rather than cause such social problems.

An epic metal song can transport you. Concealed behind its deafening drums and throat-shrieking vocals are dark themes about power, resilience, and hope that emerge to the surface.

Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast

After replacing original lead singer Paul Di’Anno with Bruce Dickinson’s air raid siren voice, Iron Maiden found their rhythm with The Number of the Beast album. From its title track to “Run to the Hills”, The Number of the Beast remains one of their finest works and remains an essential collection of metal music.

Lead guitarist Dave Murray and bassist Steve Harris had an unparalleled ability to compose complex yet listener-friendly riffs, giving their band its signature sound that was heavily influenced by progressive rock artists like Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd as well as hard rock icons such as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. However, one of the key attributes of their masterpiece was how well all their influences could cohere into one cohesive package.

Martin Birch successfully captured the band’s live sound on this recording by employing various late analogue studio tape recorders and effects, giving the album a clear and crisp sound full of punch and authority. Birch also took advantage of their twin guitar sound by double up and overdubbing their parts to give each song more physical presence.

Iron Maiden released their debut album featuring artwork by Derek Riggs – who would continue his involvement throughout their 80s and early 90s career – with its iconic cover art featuring Satan. This image has since become one of the most recognisable icons in heavy metal music.

“The Number of the Beast” was inspired by a dream Steve Harris had after watching Damien: Omen II. Often considered Satanic and often the subject of religious debate and controversy, however the band has always maintained that its origin lies solely within dreams and has nothing to do with devil worship or Satan worship.

Scorpions – Assault Attack

Those seeking Heavy Metal with old school class should listen to Assault Attack by German band Scorpions from 1982. It remains their signature album even as fortunes began dwindling post Pyromania and they moved away from their New Wave of British Heavy Metal roots. Additionally, Assault Attack marked Uli Jon Roth’s final record before leaving to replace Matthias Jabs on Taken By Force the following year.

The album opens with “Title Track”, an excellent representation of these guys’ rockin’ sound from years past. With its raspy blend of Venom, Motorhead, and Slayer it hooks its listener right away; Graham Bonnet just years removed from his work on Rainbow’s classic hard rock gem “Down to Earth”, leads vocal duties on this tune as well as others on this record with passion and emotion that their instruments were designed for.

Steamrock Fever, their anthemic anthem, starts with a powerful riff and drumbeat, building to an anthemic chorus and guitar licks that both pound and melodically soothe at once.

Assault Attack includes three instrumental thrash metal tracks: the mind-boggling instrumental track “Countdown to Death”, which showcases Schenker’s guitar prowess perfectly; this track blends straight power metal with double bass-influenced speed that would become so synonymous with thrash metal music. Furthermore, “Is There Anybody There” and “Can’t Get Enough” also prove remarkable.

The final three songs on the album are slightly weaker but still sound strong. Holiday is an effective ballad that lacks some of the power seen elsewhere on this record, while Dancer’s acoustic version stands out as being something special; Klaus Meine proves his ability to play guitar as well as singing which makes for a unique advantage within any band.

Judas Priest – The Hellion

Judas Priest burst onto the heavy metal scene with this album. Moving away from their New Wave of British Heavy Metal roots and into lengthy and intricate progressive metal songs such as “Riding on the Wind”, 22 Acacia Avenue”, and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”, Bruce Dickinson’s operatic vocals brought an air of darker sinister music into their music; which would remain their signature sound until 1984’s Defenders of Faith reached No 1 on Billboard charts.

Although not as hard hitting or heavy as their first two albums or their third, Pyromania, this Priest classic still delivers scorching headbangers from start to finish. Opening with short instrumental “The Hellion”, then leading into “Electric Eye”, these tracks often come back-to-back during live performances and radio play – this album remains an indispensable staple in their catalog and many consider it their finest work out of such an extensive catalog.

Iron Maiden and Saxon were leading the charge towards speed-driven dark metal in 1982 with their respective albums; Venom were unveiling what would later become known as Black Metal with their second release Welcome to Hell. Boasting iconic Satanic imagery and themes as well as raw, gritty metal performance reminiscent of what would later become Thrash Metal genre of heavy metal music. Welcome to Hell marked an early introduction into what would eventually become Black Metal for all listeners around the globe. This groundbreaking album also laid down roots for Thrash metal as it helped establish it’s own genre of heavy metal music!

While most of the tracks on this album are originals, there are also re-recordings from their demo album that sound significantly different than their original recordings while still maintaining that rebellious edge and dirty guitar tone that made this heavy metal band so great. Fans should absolutely own this release; unfortunately it does suffer from some sonic issues likely caused by using outdated recording equipment rather than modern digital software for recording purposes.

Dio – Black Sabbath

Ronnie James Dio took on enormous expectations as he succeeded the mysterious Ozzy Osbourne as frontman for Black Sabbath, yet this live album proves the mighty band can run as smoothly as ever. Dio’s piercing screams soar above the New Wave of British Heavy Metal-influenced “Neon Knights,” while Ozzy-era classics like “Mob Rules” growl with batwinged demon intensity from Ozzy himself. Meanwhile guitarist Tony Iommi alternates between doom-laden riffs and blistering solos while bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Vinny Appice provide muscular grooves and lithe fills for each song.

“Heaven and Hell,” one of Dio’s signature pieces, stands out in particular. However, his other talents can be seen throughout this 1982 concert rerelease: its title track raging along with punk-influenced “Flash Rockin’ Man,” punk infused “Flash Rockin’ Man,” and children of the Sea which show his depth as an artist. A must for Black Sabbath fans as well as heavy metal music enthusiasts in general!

This concert, recorded at the last stop of Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules tour in 1982, marked the last time their original lineup performed together as one. Following its release, Black Sabbath disbanded, while Dio began his solo career which would culminate with Holy Diver (1983).

Although plagued with internal drama during recording, this album stands as one of the finest examples of heavy metal at its most electrifying. Boasting such classic tracks as “Heaven and Hell” – recently listed at 11th on Martin Popoff’s 500 Greatest Heavy Metal Songs of All Time- this record displays Dio’s ability to deliver terrifying lyrics that capture horror of early metal music genre. Though Dio was reluctant to label himself as heavy metal vocalists at first, this record proves otherwise; Dio was instrumental in shaping heavy metal genre’s creation with his help embodied this album fully.