music / Columns

The Mosh Pit 04.18.08: 1983 – Rise Of The Metal Underground

April 18, 2008 | Posted by Dan Haggerty

Last week we looked at 1983 and the commercial metal releases, or at least the metal that would evolve into commercial metal (or the bands themselves would at least). 83-84 was the largest growth that metal had ever seen; the genre exploding four times over in sales that brief period. Sure, there are more metal bands world wide today and it continues to grow, but in terms of pure growth this was the revolution that went along with the evolution. But the commercial bands would break off and go one route, a land of pop and hair that would eventually kill 99% of this evolutionary line of music. A scene this large this fast would be due for a bubble burst, but trhe same time the family would also split into new interesting branches. This was the early days of the subgenres (though we didn’t know it then) that was just merely the underground to us. Metal’s extreme edges as it were. These albums were part of metal evolving and reasserting itself as the dominant line of music that would continue to grow for another quarter century to now.

The explosion of heavy metal in this time was part of metal becoming commercial, but also the rise of this underground that would become the dominant form of heavy metal very soon. It was 1983 and it was time of the underground to surge and grow to shape the future. Now for some great albums that were part of this year…

1983 Pt 2: Rise of the Metal Underground

Accept - Balls to the Wall

Part culmination of what metal was becoming, part inspiration for the future, this was the realization of the German metal sound at this point. Grossly underappreciated at the time, the band gets many props from today’s slingers for being an influence. Traditional metal drenched in buckets of power in the classical metal sense, this is the kind of straight up heavy metal that takes no prisoners and takes no shit. A dark ground and pound sort of violence barely kept in check. You hear this CD and can’t escape the image of the band chained down, pulling hard to escape their bindings, energy poured into breaking free of the songs therein to rip their surroundings apart. But that dark passion is poured into the tracks to forge kinetic motion as a solid in time. Put it on and let the albums pulse throttle through you. It will start small, but will gain momentum until you pound your fist in the air.

Fun Fact: The cover combined with a few songs having lyrics with a feminine perspective (not that you can really tell) caused all kinds of wild speculation in the day regarding the bands possible sexual orientation. The surprised band had a lot of explaining to do over that. Turns out they spoke very poor English at the time so their manager (a female) handled lyrics and promotion for the band.

Doesn’t matter, the music crushes. Buy this one folks.

Savatage – Sirens

Maximum wattage (and criminally underappreciated by a public bent on listening to increasingly dumber fare) in the 80’s, progressive and art rock in the 90’s, Savatage would eventually abandon the formula with the remaining members to pursue their late 90’s and 2000’s imprint that is none other than Tran Siberian Orchestra. I like some holiday TSO, I’m cool with Savatage’s 90’s progressive era (it was a slightly more melodic and orchestrated version of what Queensrÿche should have become in the 90’s – If that makes sense). But Savatage in the 80’s was absolutely classic straight up heavy metal. Oh my, these guys could rock; burning on more cylinders than the machine could hold and fueled by the perfect distillation of everything that came before 1983.

A lot of albums in this column forged new ground. This one didn’t do that, it just did everything traditional but did that damn well. Burning with more energy, creating more volume through ambience, dropping more power than the red line could hold, the performance takes center stage under a simple production that lets it rip from front to back. Eeryone who loved heavy metal for heavy metal ate this up – To bad no one else did, again the pop public chasing hairier limp meals instead. Then again, a public that liked “Smoking in the Boys Room” didn’t deserve this album, a lost relic among the faithful.

Alcatrazz – No Parole From Rock N’ Roll

Talk about a famous band that most people don’t know, these guys not only gave us one guitar god… But TWO. This is the debut album, and the only one with none other than one Yngwie Malmsteen. What’s great about this album is that such talent is pushed to the limits by band leader Graham Bonnet but restrained by the rules of working within the context of a band, making this a soaring journey of axes singing and searing. Power, soul, math buried in ripping solos and critical surgical rhythms, slashing left and right, all combines with the additional soulful, and remarkably intelligent and forward thinking vocals. This was ahead of it’s time. We knew it back in the day when you heard it for the first time, and time has proven the truth. Seriously, Yngwie should always be forced to clash egos and be pushed in the environment of band setting. The chemically balance results is even greater than the parts and in this case simply the best thing each of these people EVER did.

And I’m dead serious on that.

Clashing egos, each blaming the other and our favorite Axe-Son of Sweden would go on a very notable solo career. Got to give it up to Bonnet for picking up and coming guitarists, the man knows talent. Why? The next album he would hire another unknown talent named Steve Vai…

Krokus – Headhunter

Krokus are an enigma to me. Their earlier material a little to second handed and sleazy boogie for me, while the stuff that came after this went straight to second rate MTV hair. Some people like the dudes, but they never worked for me – Except this album. For one shinning moment the band lets it all hang out, acting like Accept covering everything from AC/DC to maybe the Scorpions, with a few guitar icons drinking in the background. That’s all in a good way. Not grooved up 70’s B-Sides or hairy-pop cover tunes, but straight up heavy to speed metal licks. The bands not breaking the rules or reinventing the wheel, just doing things in a no-nonsense manner that is in your face. Damn fine album that struts and strolls inside and out, and pleasure to hear from beginning to end. If you ever buy one Krokus album, this is the one.

Mercyful Fate – Melissa

It was one thing for Motley Crue to put a pentagram on there cover and sing “Shout at the Devil”, but that was good fun with a good dose of brown bottled case of tongue firmly planted in cheek. Everyone knew that… Well most, some groups had the lack of brainpower to not see through the high-school level veneer of the whole affair. But Merciful Fate… Oh Boy. These guys were the real deal. Sure, Ozzy and others had fun with the imagery (and in his case used it as an excellent analogy to real world issues), but these guys actually believed this stuff! When King Diamond got on stage with his cross made of bones styled microphone, face painted like hell’s answer to Kiss, hit notes so high you were sure it was a ghost haunting the recording, and sang of damnation along with the bands dark metal of unholy proportions, you just knew this was it – ?These guys believed all of it and you were damned along with them. I have to laugh at some of the bands that Tipper put on the “Unacceptable” list for the occult when there were only two bands that really earned it at the time (Merciful Fate and Venom of course). Heavy metal just got lifted to a whole new level of extreme right here, as we didn’t expect metal to ever really get evil. Now we knew better.

And what a ride of cutting edge and untouchable music we got. Riffs hell burned in form and weight, lyrics scraping the edges of Revelations, the voice already there (how in the hell does he maintain that falsetto!), the totality the perfect soundtrack to “The Omen”. Dark, crunching, startlingly progressive at times, this is a brooding display of heavy and metal, crisp and crushing, howling and miraculously orchestrated. “Evil” opens the album, bluntly putting you on notice your about to have your skull and perceptions caved in. “Curse of the Pharaohs” is a sweeping epic filled with complex manifestations of moldy tombs. “Black Funeral”, “Satan’s Fall”, and “Into the Coven” eat your soul.

Nevermind… man, just nevermind. I’ve heard this album so it’s too late for me. It’s claimed me. Run while you still have the ability to do so.

Dio – Holy Diver

The Elfin one separates from Sabbath and embarks on his solo career and the next stage of his royal legacy. Sword and Sorcery ingeniously used as metaphor of life and ideals, this is straight up heavy metal delivered on platinum plates of the new metal order. Give the little wizard a new axeman slinger like the might Vivian Cambell and Sabbath hold over skin destroyer Vinny Appice and the tale has win written all over it.

I’ll tell you what, the time with Blackmore and Iommi allowed one talented thespian like Dio to pick-up many great ways to sharpen his already considerable talents, which he unleashes in the tour de’ force of Holy Diver. Poet, preacher, philosopher, conqueror, the man puts on many hats and pulls them all off, with the band adding pure power and strength to the re-writing of metal’s new world order. Or maybe that’s a return to its old world order. Hell, whatever it is, it just pounds and rocks. A steady eye on traditional while boldly stepping into the future. Licks, leads, power chords, rhythms, riffs, al drenched in a rock and roll ethic that turns it up on 100% Iommi or Blackmore fueled work rate.

This was not commercial, but so well done he still garnered a radio hit out of the deal, “Rainbow in the Dark” even making a commercial at one point. Damn.

Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche

Queensrÿche would be destined for some big things, and actually some very commercial payoffs by the beginning of the next decade, but this was 100% underground in form and function. Many people love Operation Mindcrime or some maybe the albums between here and there, but I’ve always had a special love of this drenched pile of unhinged but focused power. Somewhere between Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, this EP even walked the imagery of more commercial fare. Make no mistake, this is tough as nails as “Nightrider” storms the landscape and “Queen of the Reich” soars and sears through lofty heights, powered by axe work and Geoff’s vocal energy. The slow and moody “The Lady Wore Black” flows and rumbles with hints epic-ness to come. Got to love the days when they would put short releases on both sides of the tape.

Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind

Some of this is from “Forgotten Classics” in The Mosh Pit Issue 24. It was to good to not use again:

Everyone has their favorite Iron Maiden album, and this one is mine. Not that I’m casting aspirations on the other albums of this period, this is just the crown jewel of the royal treasury so to speak. Straight forward and ripping from front to back, with little down time and no filler, from the new skin basher to the precision twin lead assault, or even Harris focused to his creative limits and Bruce gelling, now fully contributing, soaring, this is non stop metal opus.

This would have been the sophomore release with Bruce or their fourth overall, and actually the bands first album with drummer for life Nicko McBrain. Check out the very first track “Where Eagles Dare” to hear what Nicko brings, that gun fire is more than the sounds of World War II depicted by the song, it’s the man’s snare firing, proving a good gallop is not the province of a guitar. Of course, when you do it with a drum it’s called a march but hey, whose the color commentator here. I say it’s the foundation of a driving gallop that the riffs float around in structural precision. “Where Eagles Dare” also begins the fine maiden tradition of film, book, and war references used by the band to stunning affect.

“Revelations” is one of the few Maiden songs completely written by Dickinson, and is part answer of the band to religious critics of “Number of the Beast”, but mostly inspired by the writings of Aleister Crowley; a source Bruce would return to good affect later. It’s another longer epic structure of surgical precision. How does the band sound so clinical and free floating at the same time? Poetry in motion… This is further highlighted on “Flight of Icarus” with more galloping riffs disguised as a catchy rhythm. Solo’s float in and out, Greek mythology is reinvented, and your left with a brilliant piece of what made NWOBHM the revitalizing force in metal history.

“Die With Your Boots On” is a great Bruce lead, as his voice brings some dynamic and passion that helps with the war-footing feel. Yes, I know Bruce is full of range and dynamic, that’s why he is one of the great lead vocalists, but something about his voice tone on this one adds character and emotion. The guitars bring more of the love and the solo cries with an energy the clinical precision would belie.

“The Trooper” is another line of songs inspired by a poem, in this case by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It’s one of Maiden’s more popular and well known rhythms, and features a galloping line by the songs writer, Steve Harris. Of course, Bruce’s soaring vocals steal the show with one of his most well known pieces he has done. Did I mention what a great new dynamic Nicko brings with the fills?

I probably have not brought enough praise to Murray or Smith here either. Between completely filling the song structure, precise (twin) lead control, and some solo work, this is easily a spotlight album for them as well. In fact, their awesome-ness almost blinds into the background, in part due to the production keeping everything forefront well, and in part thanks to just how damn natural it is. But then a great lead or solo hits you over and you realize you’re listening to Iron Fucking Maiden. “Still Life” is a good example of what I mean with this. You’ll have to go back and play it again to see what I mean on their guitars. Go ahead and do it now, I’ll wait.

OK. “Quest of Fire” is almost simplistic, but a decent rhythm and a great solo keeps it out of mundane land. Well, that and the guys keep it short. That’s the key to a simple song – Say what you have to say and get out. “Sun And Steel” with it’s visions of Samurai, a great rhythm, galloping riffs, and one of the more harmonized choruses in the bands catalog manages to not follow the same path thanks to Nicko filling things up, the aforementioned riff work (remember simple works great when they keep it short!), and a quick solo that flirts with the imagination.

Speaking of fantasy based stories; Dune makes a guess appearance for the final track “To Tame A Land”. This is your Maiden epic closer, and is really forgotten in the greater scheme of things. Everyone knows, for very good reason, “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, appearing on the previous and next album respectively, but this one is just as worthy of being included with those two and I’d even go so far as to say it beats out “Rime” in overtime.

If you haven’t checked this out in a while, pull it out and give it a whirl or two, I think you’ll find some great stuff buried deep in the mind of Eddie…

Black Sabbath – Born Again

Oh man, this album. This album… Honestly, this is one of my favorite Sabbath albums of all time (wrapped in one of it’s worse covers). Sabotage wins the vote in overtime, and a few more come close, but this dark horse of ugly proportions is a top favorite of mine. Yes, they blew the production, but that just gives it an unholy feel of dementia that works. Lyrically? Well some of the subject matter is a little odd for Sabbath, thanks to Ian Gillian influence this outing, but hey… You’re to busy getting your head kicked in to care.

Yes, that’s Ian Gillian of Deep Purple fame, doing a one off with the band (agreed to after a heavy night of drinking with the guys no less), plus Ward returns for this album only before he falls to personal issues (don’t let the alcohol full you, he never got over the firing of Ozzy). What you have is a post Dio band returning to the dark crunch of earlier fare, everyone on board sans the singer, and Ian puts on a career highlight as screaming demented maniac. He’s the man with a gaggle of demons moshing in his head as he cracks open Pandora’s Box of holocausts and gleefully dumps the contents on the listener’s head. Ward destroys city blocks with his percussive attack; while Geezer rumbles like a multi-ton machine and Iommi dished out riffs that… well I’ll put it this way: Angels blowing the horns doesn’t announce Armageddon… The riffs from “Zero the Hero” does. God lord, the opening moments of that song just crush history under its path, an unstoppable freight train that needed the previous 15 seconds of the last track to start the momentum. When it gets rolling, it just goes with a life of its own and makes you throw your hands in the air to say “We’re not worthy!”

But this caustic and chaotic riff and rumble is more than that glorious moment of music history. “Trashed” trashes the place, “Disturbing the Priest” features Ian screaming at his demented best (man I wish he would have done another album with the guys). Musical interludes like “Stonehenge” are some of the best from the bands certified brilliant catalog. Even the flow of the slower and melodic “Keep It Warm” is a journey to new Sabbath terrain without losing the bands dark imprint.

Mocked for the searing and acidic production, critically panned, and like a true music fan I couldn’t really give a damn. As far as I’m concerned the band stepped left from their career journey to burn brightly, like only the sum total of these brilliant musicians could, and deliver one of the greatest metal albums ever burned into vinyl.

Slayer – Show No Mercy

And thus it was born, the institution to put the all the metal children on notice that the underground was going to seriously bash in some skulls. Survivors get the privilege of getting out of the 80’s alive. A riot barely held in check, and a riff roaring chaos born of thrashes primordial origins, this was the face of the lands that metal was to eventually go. Hard rock and heavy metal had distressed the critics and gave ammo to the censors for a while, but Slayer systematically put the whole lot on notice that the ride was about to get a hell of a lot louder. Most metal bands just looked the critics in the face and laughed off there complaints, Slayer just told them to fuck off. And buy the way, get the hell out of the way if you want to keep your intestines.

This influenced thrash, but also other extremes of the future: Hardcore, black, death. This was that forward thinking, all by not being forward thinking, just a ton of sweat layered riffs, distorted crashing axes the impaled deep into your conscious, a blistering attack of music that cauterized the wound left behind.

Look out world, Slayer just called your bluff and raised the ante’ on the whole damn scene.

Metallica – Kill ‘Em All

This is taken from my review of the entire Metallica Catalog back at the end of November; to good to not reuse:

And here it is; the debut album that, while a thrash album, is more a call to arms. The metal underground was coming to rape and pillage all that was safe and normal in the music kingdom. Raw, destructive, a rough ride of high-speed riffs, this took the burgeoning thrash scene and gave it a voice – A new world order of violence and aggression at neck-break speed. Arena bands offered to come to your house and bring drinks to party with you, leave your house trashed, and hit on your sister. This beast promised to wreck your house, use the remains for a bomb-fire, drink all of your alcohol, get sick in your back-seat, and get your sister knocked-up.

There is some really great pure thrash on here. “Hit the Lights” rips and the solo work just destroys. “The Four Horseman” redefined the idea of epic and married it to thrash. “Jump in the Fire” welds thrash to hooky-riffs, a blue print for the future. “Phantom Lord” and “Seek and Destroy” repeat the pattern to skull frying affect, with the latter becoming a live staple. Like I said, this is raw and bristling with almost un-channeled energy, being a text book example of pure thrash. This will hit casual metal fans like a cheese grater across the face, but for any pure thrash fan this is the staple of the genre.

The troops were officially armed, and the underground was ready to start the revolution within the metal nation. In 1984, they pulled the trigger…

Encore

And next week, we’ll look at 1984 and how the same band pulled that trigger. It was the shot heard around the metal world…

Intermission

Dio – Holy Diver

Iron Maiden – The Trooper (Live In Reo)

Queensryche – Queen Of The Reich

The Mosh Pit’s 2008 Rankings
Rank Score Group and Album
1 8.5 Gamma Ray – Land of the Free II
2 8 Brainstorm – Downburst
3 7.5 Island – Orakel
4 7.5 Children of Bodom – Bloodrunk
5 6 Bullet for my Valentine – Scream Aim Fire

2008 Rankings
The metal albums released for 2008.

Added Children of Bodom to the chart.

Readers Choice 2008 Album Rankings

N/A

Final Thoughts

Keep it real and pay the music you love. If people bitch then turn it up until they you can’t here them anymore.

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Dan Haggerty

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