An Essay on the Golden Age of Metal – 1985. The final piece in a series of the Golden Age of Metal articles
Contrary to a lot of folks’ opinions, the Golden Age of Metal was very short. It was only from 1980 to 1985, before the great Metal schism where Metal splintered into two main groups and dozens (now literally hundreds) of sub-groups. You might want to read this article first before proceeding, if this is the first time you stumbled on these Golden Age of Metal articles.
Golden Age Metal 1985
This is the final piece. The undercurrent had arrived, and this was the last year if you were a hard-core Metalhead where you didn’t have to take sides. You can like both. It wasn’t illegal. But in 1986, you either sided with Thrash or Glam. It was especially true in 1987 and on before Metal went entirely underground in the early 1990s.
Crazy Washington, D.C. wives try to censor Metal and Rap
But let’s talk about 1985. Heavy Metal was the reason why good parents had kids do bad things, according to some idiots in Washington, D.C. Tipper Gore, who hated female masturbation more than Jesus hated bankers, led the PMRC in an assault against the twin evils of Western civilization – Heavy Metal and Rap music. Heavy Metal was making teenagers think about violence and Rap was making teenagers think about sex, according to these crazy women. Because of course, teenagers would NEVER think about sex and violence on their own. It had to be the music.
Frank Zappa, Dee Snyder, and John Denver led the counterattack and made the PMRC wives look like the crazy shrill women they were. But of course the industry caved in and what we got now is the Tipper Sticker plastered on the album art whenever a record label is scared of offending nutcases.
The Metal artists that were specifically mentioned in Tipper’s filthy 15 were Judas Priest, Mötley Crüe, Venom, Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P., Black Sabbath, Mercyful Fateand Def Leppard. Note that hard rock act AC/DC was also mentioned.
This all backfired. We all know how teenagers think – you tell a teenager not to do something and they want to do it more. So Metal bands HAD to put swear words in their albums or else their sales would plummet.
The whole thing was stupid, and a violation of our First Amendment. But like a lot of stupid people in America today, who needs Freedom if you can protect just one child, right?
Best Metal albums of 1985
Picking the best albums for Golden Age Metal 1985. I hate doing this, because there were so many. Note that I’m mixing my favorites here with the ones I feel the most historically significant. So you’re getting a mixture of both. You can read between the lines and figure out which is which.
In alphabetical order:
Accept’s Metal Heart. One of the German Metal bands best efforts, but Accept is my primary example of a Metal band that would go on to be a casualty of the great Metal schism as they were smack dead in the middle and didn’t take sides.
Anthrax’ Spreading the Disease. The kings of East Coast Thrash Metal. Although not quite as big as Bay Area Thrash Metal, historically, we have to list this album.
Dokken Under Lock and Key. Reached pretty high on the Billboard charts. Historically, Dokken helped push the LA scene, which eventually morphed into Glam Metal.
Exodus’ Bonded by Blood. San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal. A scene with huge historical significance. This album was Exodus’ debut album and greatly influenced the underground aspect of the scene and helped rise the scene to a respectable level. Great album, but unfortunately for them, delays caused it to be released in 1985 instead of 1984 and we all can guess how history would have treated Exodus differently.
Faith No More’s We Care a Lot. I overlooked it at the time, but looking back, this album would have tremendous historical significance for what would become known as Alternative Metal.
Iron Maiden’s Live After Death – What? A live album? Yes. Every Metalhead in 1985 owned this album. It was Maiden live and it was awesome.
Loudness’ Thunder in the East. The first Japanese Metal band to crack the American Billboard 200, this actually was a pretty good album. Led by the downright amazing guitar playing of Akira Takasaki, “Crazy Nights” was the lead single but not the best song on the album. Only the most commercially friendly.
Megadeth’s Killing is my Business…And Business is Good. Sounding like it was recorded in someone’s basement, Megadeth made this album specifically as a revenge against getting fired from Metallica. It was faster, meaner, more raw, and the guitar playing was more in your face. It only lacked production value, which is a shame as it would have been Megadeth’s best album.
Mötley Crüe’s Theater of Pain. Looking back, this could arguably be the most historical Metal album of 1985 although it is a collection of really excellent tunes mixed with several quite forgettable filler songs. “Home Sweet Home” dominated MTV. Dominated is no understatement. MTV had to enact an unwritten rule where one song couldn’t be #1 for more than 30 days. Not making this up. “Home Sweet Home” was #1 for three months. Had not happened before and hasn’t happened since.
Rising Force’s Marching Out. Yngwie’s best work. The only album I’ve heard of Yngwie where he worked hard on his rhythm guitar playing and it showed. Teenaged guitar players not only studied his leads, they also played his riffs from this album. And Jeff Scott Soto can actually sing. Of course, Yngwie would later sack Soto then move in a pop direction and lose a lot of his Metal fans. Still, if you don’t own this album, you need to. Every Metal guitarist in the 80s either was directly influenced by Yngwie’s first two solo albums or they lied and denied it.
Slayer’s Hell Awaits. Slayer was on a whole new level of angry. It really is a shame that they didn’t have a better recording budget for this album as historically, it’s one of the more significant albums ever put out. No, it never broke the Billboard charts. But who cares? Slayer became required material for learning how to write angry music. And, they were pretty fucking good musicians. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you cannot deny that.
I am leaving a lot out. I still want to give kudos to Ratt, the Scorpions, Dio, Exciter, Overkill, Possessed, Twisted Sister, and a lot of other bands. 1985 was both a great year for Metal in terms of how many great albums were released in one year, and also a historically significant year as it was the last year before the great Metal schism. Afterwards, Metal was split into two camps – Thrash (which was the forerunner of Extreme Metal), and Glam (which would decline to a form of music where image was more important than writing quality material and would evoke a huge backlash against Metal).
Now, I’m not against all Glam. I thought some of it was musically good. But I will say it here because it needs to be said – the vast majority of Glam Metal was a marketing gimmick where the bottom line mattered more than the music. Glam turned a lot of people against Metal. I am not against the concept. I am against what it became.
Paul Rubino is the founder of the Symphonic Metal band Astral Eyes. He’s proud to say how much he was influenced by Golden Age Metal. He plays Guitar, Piano, and is a Classical Composer and Orchestrator.
From a personal note, the PMRC is yet another reason we’re sticking with an independent label – they have sworn to never put the Tipper sticker on our album art. This matters greatly to us as we hire some of the best young talent we can find for our album art.
Image of Paul shot by Kate. Thanks Kate! Image of griffin from Nino Barbieri and is licensed CC 2.5. This is a statue in Venice