We kick the first year of this epic project off with Iron Maiden’s “Powerslave”, a metal record that needs no introduction from a metal band that needs no introduction, as it serves as the monumental capper to a back-to-back series of iconic records we got from the poster boys of NWoBHM throughout the first half of the 80’s, from the scrappier, punkier stylings of the Di’Anno records, to the more melodic, epic tone of the Dickinson era, which defined the band’s style and made them worldwide icons, so it was a no-brainer to go with “Powerslave” as being the foremost representation of traditional metal that was released in ’84. However, I wouldn’t exactly describe this as being a revolutionary record for Maiden, but rather, a refining, revisiting the bigger, more ambitious leanings of 82’s “Number of the Beast“ after the band had the chance to get a bit more comfortable with Dickinson/newcomer drummer Nicko McBrain through the more humble, but still equally enjoyable stylings of ’83’s “Piece of Mind“.
At any rate, from the blazing opener “Aces High” to the soaring instrumental “Losfer Words”, or the absolutely epic, 13-minute record closer “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, this is Maiden at their best, as Murray & Smith’s amazing riffs and solos blaze away as intense as ever, Steve Harris’s incredibly energetic, galloping bass holds down the low end in his signature virtuoso manner, and of course, the operatic vocals of the Air Raid Siren, Mr. Bruce Dickinson himself, fly higher and farther than ever before, resulting in what is still the band’s finest hour, as far as I’m concerned; up the Irons, punks!
Ever wondered what it might sound like if Johann Sebastian Bach had been born about three centuries later, had grown up listening to Deep Purple & Rainbow, and ended up with the kind of raw guitar skill that would give peers like Satriani, Randy Rhoads, and even Eddie Van Halen a run for their respective monies? …wait, you have wondered that? Weirdo.
Anyway, the answer to your oddly specific hypothetical lies within Yngwie Malmsteen’s Grammy-nominated debut “Rising Force”, in which the Swedish guitar wunderkind takes the immortal guitar legacy of Ritchie Blackmore and absolutely runs with it, resulting in the first truly essential, all-around work of neo-classical metal, which you can hear in tracks like “Evil Eye” which are based on actual, old-school compositions of classical music, only with a hefty infusion of the metal to update them for the modern age.
Of course, this is an almost completely instrumental recording where the riffs take a backseat to the almighty lead guitar, which, instead of being used as an occasional accent, is really the driving force (sorry) behind the music. Admittedly, I know essentially nothing about how to play guitar, so most of the technical details of Malmsteen’s skills go way, way over my head, but even I can still tell that he takes incredibly flashy, shred-tastic fret pyrotechnics that are as on fire on record as the conspicuously fingernail-painted hand on the album cover, and focuses them with catchy, well-composed melodies, solos, and actual, legitimate songwriting, as opposed to being just empty, pointless guitar wankery, proving there’s a good reason why Yngwie is still a god to guitarists everywhere to this day, and it all started with this record right here, baby.
While I acknowledge that the sound we now know as doom metal existed way, way before ’84, to the point where the very first song on Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut arguably created the style all the way back in 1970, although some would put the origins of the sound back even further than that (just sayin’, there’s a good reason why Mötley Crüe, Coroner, and Type O Negative all recorded covers of that song).
But, as far as I’m concerned, while Sabbath and a couple of other groups occasionally flirted with doom-y sensibilities over the years, it wasn’t until the Aurora, Illinois-based Trouble recorded their debut record Psalm 9 that the world heard the first example of what was an unambiguously, undeniably doom metal album in general.
And, while there’s still plenty of more up-tempo riffs here and there on this record (though even those parts are still awesome), and although they’re far from the most iconic band in the genre (a certain Swedish group that helped cement the name of the style were yet to debut, as we’ll soon see), Trouble was still the first band to record an album that was predominantly doom, building upon the legacy of the almighty Sabbath with their downbeat, crawling tempos, ultra-thick, down-tuned, dread-laden riffs, and fantastic lyrical tales of spiritual darkness and warfare, all of which are elements that would come to be synonymous with the genre in coming years. Proving that, while Trouble may not have been the famous example of their particular style, they were certainly one of the first, in addition to just being one of the best as well; Iommi would be proud!
Next up, we have Bathory’s legendary debut album, which is arguably the most influential record to come out during what was (also) arguably the peak year of what’s become known as “the 1st wave of black metal” (but, more on that below). Continuing the musical legacy of Venom (as much as Quorthon might have denied it otherwise) and taking it to a brand new extreme, Sweden’s Bathory took the metal world by storm (of damnation?) with their lo-fi, uncooked chicken-raw production values, openly, unabashedly Satanic lyrics, and raspy, evil croaking vocals courtesy of the man, the legend, Quorthon himself, all of which are aspects that would see tremendous reverberations in Norway during the following decade (as we’ll eventually see later in this project).
Really, besides sounding raw in a more muddy, Venom-ish way as opposed to the shrillness that would characterize the productions of their Norwegian disciples later on, the only other aspect of “Bathory” that makes me hesitate from officially calling it “black metal” in the modern understanding of the term is its songwriting, which relies almost exclusively on intense, speedy tempos, something that I don’t necessarily consider to be a defining characteristic of the style from the 2nd wave onward.
But, regardless of the genre-quibbling, “Bathory” was still some of the most evil-sounding music around in ’84, and whether you want to call it 1st wave black metal, evil-sounding thrash, or just extreme metal in general, this is still one of the most influential records from one of the most influential metal bands of all time, and whether you enjoy its particularly raw take on the genre or not, this album deserves respect for the almost incomparable impact that it’s had on our beloved music, beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Finally, we end the initial year of this project with what is, in my humble opinion (and hopefully yours as well), the most important metal record of ’84, which is, of course, Metallica’s legendary sophomore effort “Ride the Lightning”, one of the band’s very finest hours (even though it actually only lasts a little longer than 45 minutes, haha), and, as far as I’m concerned, the first true classic album to arise out of the then-nascent thrash metal movement.
Now, when I say that, I admit that that statement does come with a number of caveats; first off, I’m not necessarily saying that I personally, conclusively know beyond any shadow of a doubt that “Ride the Lightning” is the first great thrash recording ever released, as, for l know, some band no one’s ever heard of out in Nowheresville, Ohio recorded the most amazing, shredtastic metal demo tape ever all the way back in 1968, one that made “Reign in Blood”, “Master of Puppets” and “Peace Sells” all sound like complete and total crap, only for the band to disband after the only copy was destroyed in a tragic donkey fire, depriving the world of the most ahead-of-their-time heavy metal savants it has, or ever will, know. And, “Ride the Lightning” wasn’t the first album released by a thrash band, as Slayer & Anthrax had both already released their respective debuts by the time “RtL” had hit the streets, and heck, this wasn’t even the world’s first taste of Metallica, which came in the form of the previous year’s debut release “Kill ‘Em All“.
However, while “Kill ‘Em All” and those other records were certainly fun, fairly enjoyable debuts, stylistically, as far as I’m concerned, they were relatively unsophisticated, less aggressive examples of “speed metal” as opposed to being straight-up modern thrash, and if Metallica and their contemporaries had continued in the same vein, I don’t think they would’ve ever escaped the incredibly long shadows of classic/new wave of British metal, and established their own sub-genre. However, the band did just that with “Ride the Lightning“, taking the foundation of their idols that they had already been building upon in earnest and taking it to the next level, as they dramatically progressed their sound in a personal sense, whether it be the all-out shredfest of an opener “Fight Fire with Fire”, the shockingly intimate, acoustic-driven confessional ballad “Fade to Black”, or the 9-minute (!) epic instrumental “The Call of Ktulu”, an absolutely insane ode to Lovecraft’s most iconic of Elder Gods.
And in the process of creating all these amazing tunes, Metallica helped to permanently establish the sound of a brand new style of metal in the process, as they take the relentless intensity of hardcore punk and fused it with the more technically-accomplished musicianship and the less chaotic, relatively “orderly” song structures of their British metal idols, all executed with a particularly ambitious, even progressive-leaning overall ambition to give it a unique edge, helping to create what we now know as *dramatic drumroll please* official modern-day thrash metal, yo.
Of course, by this point, I’ve already tried to prove that ’84 had plenty of other classic, pioneering metal records of various styles, but for my money, “Ride the Lightning“ is definitely the most influential one, simply by virtue of being released by a metal band that’s become as uncommonly popular as Metallica, as, while it isn’t necessarily more trailblazing in a stylistic sense than what Yngwie, Trouble, or Quorthon recorded this year, with all due respect to those artists, their records didn’t end up selling in excess of 10 million copies worldwide, did they?
But at any rate, regardless of commercial popularity or inner genre impact, I think by now that I’ve proven that “Ride the Lightning“ and the other records I’ve covered in this entry (and more I haven’t, but we’ll get into that) ended up making 1984 one of the biggest watershed years in the history of heavy metal, and, instead of turning out to part of some nightmare-ish dystopian era like Orwell predicted all those years ago, what we got instead was the true beginning of the Golden Age of Metal, baby!
Other notable metal records from ’84:
If the records discussed above were the only metal released that year, it would still be a watershed, but in addition to that, in terms of traditional metal, the year also saw the releases of Dio’s excellent sophomore effort “The Last in Line” and Judas Priest’s “Defenders of the Faith”, the last true classic release by the band before going through a bit of a slump in their career in the 2nd half of the decade (before coming back hard at the dawn of the next one, but we’ll cross that metallic bridge when we get to it), while on the more mainstream/”hairier” side of the spectrum, we also heard the Scorpions’ “Love at First Sting” (which had a little song called “Rock You Like A Hurricane”; ever heard of it?), Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry”, and “Projects in the Jungle”, the 2nd album from some band called Pantera before anyone knew (or gave a crap) who they were.
Besides that, there were also a number of notable releases from other early thrash bands like Metal Church’s self-titled debut, Slayer’s “Haunting the Chapel” EP, and Anthrax’s debut “Fistful of Metal” (which arguably helped name the style with the inclusion of the track “Metal Thrashing Mad”), but, like I said earlier, the metallic movement that was really seeing its highest peak in ’84 was definitely the 1st wave of black metal, as, besides Bathory’s aforementioned, unbelievably influential debut, we also saw the release of Venom’s “At War with Satan”, which, while not as iconic a record as their first two initial classics (including “Black Metal” itself), is still fairly well regarded by the metal community in general, along with Mercyful Fate’s sophomore effort “Don’t Break the Oath”, which, while a classic record, really only resembled black metal in its openly Satanic lyrics, showing the mutability of the label at the time, and the incredibly raw, ugly “Apocalyptic Raids” EP from Switzerland’s Hellhammer, a group that would see some of its members go on to release a classic debut album later that same year, “Morbid Tales,” under the name Celtic Frost; you may have heard of them.