It isn’t an easy task to pick out the 80’s best heavy metal bands, bearing in mind that the decade resulted in the sub-genres of both hair metal and thrash metal, and was the most pivotal decade in the history of the genre as a whole.
The 80’s was electric for music but especially metal, with the contrast between the short-lived popularity of glam metal and the dawn of thrash metal. While there were numerous bands that captured the attention of fans in the decade, only a few left a lasting legacy. Even fewer of the really big acts stayed in the genre, with many, such as Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses making the transition to rock. Here are the top seven that have stood the test of time.
Borne out of what was left of a band from Washington called The Mob, Queensrÿche has sold over 20 million records around the world, with one, in particular (Operation: Mindcrime), regarded as among the 100 best albums in history. The band also received three Grammy nominations in the decade. They had their battles with their record company in order not to be positioned as a glam rock act, as they felt that they were purely heavy metal (even though keyboards were used in a number of their songs). Their success faded in the 90’s, as a result of burnout, although they’re still going today.
As a result of their look, the band were given the “glam” label. The reality was a stark contrast, however, as the music they were playing was far heavier than the majority of bands that they were competing with in the hair/glam metal subgenre. They formed in New Jersey, and in their early days, played the clubs before their popularity grew and they enjoyed some big hits. While their live shows and videos were slapstick, the band fell foul of the 1985 attempts at censorship, partly due to “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, which struck a chord with children rebelling against their parents. Lead singer Dee Snider was forced to testify in front of the US Senate, turning up with his big hair and everything. That’s about as metal as you can get.
Slayer, who have received multiple Grammy nominations, managed to overcome adversity after receiving criticism for both their album artwork and subject matter, to be considered one of the most popular and influential bands of their era. Their lyrical topics resulting in both bans and boycotts, it was that very controversial approach that steered them to top of the metal genre. Bassist and lead singer Tom Araya is famous for shouting the words of the band’s songs while managing to maintain the fast rhythms they are known for. While considered one of the four biggest thrash metal bands, Slayer is more famous for being the founders of death metal. Numerous bands regard Slayer as being an influence, being among the first to tackle the darker sound and controversial lyrics that are at the very core of death metal.