Let me take you back to a time when internet, streaming or anything of the sort was science fiction. CD’s were still relatively new, but the little silver discs with the tiny covers were quickly gaining momentum. We first and foremost had vinyl. We also had cassette tapes, not because they were trendy, but because they were the norm and affordable, and we copied vinyls onto those cassette tapes like mad.
The year is 1988. Yours faithfully is 15 years old and in the middle of a period of time, which would define my musical taste forever. From a life were comic books and badminton were my two main interests, I’d move into a state were music and metal music in particular would be the interest to rule them all.
Ram it down, ram it down, straight through the heart of this town
I recently realised that 2018 marks my 30th anniversary as a full-blown metal fan. It was the year when I finally bought my first albums and KNEW in my 15/16-year-old bones that metal music would be the soundtrack of my life.
It all started two or three years before, when some of my class mates started listening to Iron Maiden, Beastie Boys, Accept, Slayer and Manowar. I didn’t like it much in the beginning, mainly because I would always tend to be a bit oppositional to what the others did and liked. Eventually, I’d admit even to myself that I was completely in love with the energy of this music and exactly that rebellious nature of the whole genre. It was primarily the TV programme ‘Monsters of Rock’ on Sky Channel that taught me more and more about this rebellious genre of music, which had so more power than the rock and pop music I was listening to at the time (e.g. Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, The Beatles).
The legendary Mick Wall from Monsters of Rock introduced me to Judas Priest and their cover of ‘Johnny B. Goode’. I was completely in awe. What had they DONE to that classic rock song? I had to own it. Immediately. There’s was no single, so I had to buy the album, Ram It Down, and as much as I thought it was a bit over the top to buy an entire album I didn’t know beforehand, I didn’t regret it. I loved the album, and I do to this day. This was towards the end of May 1988.
Here’s a clip from Monsters of Rock:
Justice is lost, justice is raped, justice is gone
Ram It Down started an avalanche of purchases. From then on, all of my pocket money went into the till of the local record store owner and the ditto second-hand store. I believe Testament’s Live at Eindhoven (1987) was next (I bought that on a trip to Germany), then Anthrax’s Spreading the Disease (1986), a Nazareth maxi (Cinema) (1981) and very soon, one of my mates sold me Master Of Puppets (1986). After that, I bought The Number of the Beast, Live After Death and Powerslave. The foundation of a collection was made!
Suddenly, I also discovered that these bands played live concerts. The first one I went to was Denmark’s own Artillery sometime during the autumn of 1988. The venue was tiny and there were probably 30 of us tops, but, hell, the energy was crazy. Banging your head in front of a real, live band was just something completely different. Then and there, it became an addiction to see more.
To this day, I don’t understand where I found the money. I was both picking up the back catalogue of the bands I discovered and at the same time, I’d get the new releases. And looking back, 1988 was a gargantuan year in terms of metal music.
Yours truly…aged 15, with parts of the growing collection:
At this point, I would like to write something like ‘the one release that outshines them all is this one’ or ‘unequalled among all of these albums was…’, but I hesitate. The number of gargantuan metal releases throughout 1988 was ridiculously huge. Examples? Well, let’s begin with Metallica.
My mum went to London on a business trip for some days in September, and crammed into her suitcase, she brought home with her the double LP …And Justice For All, which had been released the week before. Even though Master had blown my mind, Justice would turn out to be the Metallica album for me and certainly also one of my all-time favourite releases. I didn’t mind the thin sound and the infamous absence of bass, the songs very simply astonished the 16-year-old Thomas Nielsen. It’s still my favourite Metallica album.
That was by the way not all my mum’s generous suitcase contained; she also picked up the new Anthrax album, State of Euphoria, on cassette. I loved it. It was so much better than Spreading, and since I didn’t know Among the Living yet, State was truly the dog’s bollocks. Anthrax did mean a lot to me, and they would eventually also be the first international band I saw live in concert. This happened one year later, when they played in Copenhagen.
Silently screaming as I bang my head ‘gainst the wall
The support band for that same concert was Suicidal Tendencies who also found a big place in my heart. This was due to one of my mates from upper secondary level school. He introduced me to ST, and in 1988, they released the brilliant How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today, which was so different from the other thrash metal I knew. Mike Muir’s lyrics as well as his delivery was something else and the flow of the music was unique.
Thrash or be Trashed
And thrash certainly was gigantic in 1988, although the genre was actually already at this point wearing out. Other thrash grenades to emerge during the year included Death Angel’s Frolic Through the Park, the outstanding No Place For The Disgrace by Flotsam & Jetsam, Atrophy’s Socialized Hate, Realm’s Endless Wars, Forbidden’s power house debut Forbidden Evil, Helstar‘s A Distant Thunder, Australians Hobb’s Angel of Death’s eponymously entitled debut album, Swedish Midas Touch‘s (sadly!) only album, Presage of Disaster, Rigor Mortis‘ self-entitled debut album, Robb Flynn’s pre-Machine Head combo Vio-lence’s Eternal Nightmare, Toxik’s excellent techno-thrash album World Circus, Sanctuary’s Dave Mustaine-produced debut Refuge Denied, where the world of metal for the first time noticed the uncanny voice of the now sadly departed Warrel Dane, the debut offering Suffering Hour by tech-prog-trashers Anacrusis, and in Germany, beer-drinking maniacs Tankard released The Morning After, Sodom unleashed the live album Mortal Way of Live, Vendetta put out the fabulous Brain Damage and Blind Guardian’s debut release, Battalions of Fear also saw the light of day.
The greatest speed/power/thrash album to come out of Germany that year, though, would be Helloween’s Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 2, an album which, along with the rest of the pumpkin heads’ early albums, would influence an entire metal genre.
A very serious young man, doing his best to keep his cool during a family vacation to Greece. Very metal.
The root of all evil is the heart of the black soul
More of the greatest bands within the subgenre made an impact: Former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine would release the third Megadeth album, So Far, So Good… So What! The blistering cover of ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ was phenomenal, as were ‘Set the World on Fire’, ‘Mary Jane’ and ‘In My Darkest Hour’. Well, it was just an amazing album, basically.
The last of the Big Four, Slayer, would also release one of their, in my humble opinion, best albums in 1988. South Of Heaven saw Slayer taking down the tempo a notch or two compared to Reign In Blood, but for me, it was a more nuanced album with lots more atmosphere than its predecessor. It remains one of my favourite albums to this day.
Another thrash band we need to mention are Testament, again one of my all-time favourite bands, who released their second album, The New Order, in 1988. It was less no ferocious than the debut, but no less popular with me. I liked how the Bay Area thrashers had everything under more control with this release, although they hadn’t lost the heaviness.
On the East coast, New Jersey’s finest also released one of the biggest albums of my youth: Overkill put out Under the Influence, which totally overwhelmed me with its mixture of thrash, punk and a thick, dark atmosphere. From the moment I heard that album, I immediately decided to get hold of everything they’d done before – and buy all their future albums. Which I did.
In Overkill’s neighbourhood, the crossover movement had been thriving with S.O.D. and Nuclear Assault, and the latter-mentioned released the scourging Survive album in 1988 – as well as the magnificent Good Times, Bad Times EP, which was running more or less non-stop on my record player. Also the S.O.D., Anthrax and Nuclear Assualt related band M.O.D. with Billy Milano in his prime released the hilarious Surfin’ M.O.D. It was a great laugh! Another New Jersey band took it even further in terms of extremity: Old Lady Drivers (OLD). This was grindcore with a theme, and a weird one to boot. I loved it.
The ceiling in my room towards the end of 1988…I was DESPERATE to find room for all those posters and magazine clippings!
I’ve got two faces
Further up north, in the French-speaking part of Canada, sci-fi-thrash metallers Voivod released Dimension Hatröss, a studio in oddness and inaccessible music…and yet, the song ‘Tribal Convictions’ caught my ears through the video that was aired on the Monsters of Rock show. ‘Tribal Convictions’ remains a song I keep returning to every now and then.
Some bands had begun to take things into an even more extreme direction than Slayer and the other thrash bands. Chuck Schuldiner and Death had already given name to a new brand of metal, namely death metal, and with Leprosy, they were perfecting the formula and in so doing amazed my mates and myself. In the Netherlands, Pestilence would soon give Death competition to the finish line. Their Malleus Maleficarum was also a masterpiece of extremity, although their expression and sound was different.
To consume all things material
In the UK, there were also extreme things going on. I was introduced to goregrinders Carcass sometime in 1989 and was utterly blown away by the brutally of Symphonies of Sickness from that year, and did the retrospective search in my local record store on the band’s debut from 1988, Reek of Putrefaction. Reek… was no less brutal, but perhaps less structured and therefore not quite as easy to digest as Symphonies. The cover, mind you, was over the top controversial and therefore hard not to love.
Bill Steer’s former playground of extremity, Napalm Death from Birmingham, England, released the scorching From Enslavement To Obliteration with later Cathedral front man Lee Dorrian as spoke person against injustice. Dorrian came from Coventry just like the death metal juggernaut Bolt Thrower, who also released their debut album in 1988. Not their best work, admittedly, but as we all know, they went on to produce some of the most crushing death metal there is.
Also in the UK, a band that would have a massive impact on me a year or so later, namely Sabbat, released their debut on Noise Records. History of a Time to Come was a raw and rather shrill offering, partly due to the production, partly due to Martin Walkyier’s vocal, but there were good songs on there, there was no doubt about that. However, in 1989, they blew all my proverbial speakers with their Dreamweaver, based on Brian Bates’ novel The Way of Wyrd about a young Christian munk who is sent into the pagan lands of Britain. It’s a sublime concept album, no less.
Twist of Cain inside my bleeding heart, yeah
The US scene was not only about the being faster and more extreme in 1988. Manowar released the mighty Kings of Metal album, which spoke to the quest for adventure and the heroic in all of us boys. Guns N’Roses were riding on the success of Appetite for Destruction (1987) and put out GN’R Lies, which was a sort of whilst-we’re-waiting-for-a-proper-album release, but it showed a different side of the band with the fine acoustic tunes.
Glenn Danzig, the former Misfits and Samhain singer, took many by surprise by making a curve between metal and blues. Danzig was and is to this day a fantastic album, and in particular the song ‘Mother’ became an anthem for the tormented souls who followed Evil Elvis. My mom loved it!
On the melodic power metal front, Armored Saint gave the world Saints Will Conquer, a fine live documentary, which was my first encounter with the Saint, this wonderful and talented band fronted by John Bush. I saw Armored Saint in Berlin a couple of years later, at the oddly billed Rock Hard Festival (Obituary, Morgoth, Sepultura, Blind Guardian and the Saint). The atmosphere during the Saint concert wasn’t great, to be honest, which I found weird. The band never made it big commercially, but have been appropriately praised in later years after their return to the metal scene. Riot released Thundersteel, a great melodic power metal album that enjoyed many spins on my records player when I finally picked it up a year or so after its release.
By 1988, Ozzy had long since expatriated himself (or maybe Sharon decided that) to the States, and the band around the Ozzman certainly were Americans. Most notably his new, young guitarist, Zak Wylde, holds the blame for the No Rest for the Wicked being the most impressive of Ozzy’s solo albums. I am well aware that other fans might disagree wildly, but the artificial harmonies and sound of that album simply went straight to my head.
On the proggier side of life, Seattle’s Queensrÿche made their magnus opus in 1988: Operation: Mindcrime set new standards for concept albums and the quality of compositions in metal. This was the perfect album. The story, the vocals, the sound, everything. Queensrÿche never managed to top this album, although they made solid attempts throughout the years.
Not too far from the style of earlier Queensrÿche efforts were Crimson Glory. Their Transcendence album also offered fans of prog induced metal a more than decent alternative to the increasingly extreme direction the business was moving into.
Other less hard-hitting, but still superb offerings came from Impelliteri with Stand In Line, a vinyl that is still one of treasures of my collection. Also Sweden’s megalomaniac number one, Yngwie J. Malmsteen graced the ears of metal fans with his classical inspired music in 1988. Although it had nothing to do with thrash or death metal, the sheer strength of Malmsteen’s playing convinced greatly, and Odyssey continued the red line drawn up by Rising Force, Marching Out and Trilogy.
A snapshot of my 1988 memorabilia – most of the vinyls have been traded away for CD’s, but there are still a few left…
For All Those Who Died
Another Swedish artist offered a very different and definitely harder take on the metal genre the same year. In fact, this artist defined a sub-genre in its own right. With Blood Fire Death, Quorthon and Bathory began the transformation from being a prototype black metal meets Motörhead act to setting sails towards Viking shores. It was raw and brutal, yet, curiously epic in nature. As we all know, Quorthon would move on to explore this with great success on the next two albums, Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, in my view two milestones of metal music.
Another Swedish band set new standards in 1988: Candlemass released an epic lesson in doom metal when Ancient Dreams hit the shelves. With eight monstrously heavy tunes and Messiah Marcolin’s characteristic vocal, I was convinced from the second I laid ears to this. Black Sabbath was a clear influence, but Metallica was also a part of the brew. Amazing album.
Now that we’re touching northern shores, Danish Kim Bendix Pedersen, better known by the name King Diamond, the former Mercyful Fate singer, released his third solo album, “Them”, during the summer of 1988. “Them” was the first part of the tale of young King, his grandmother and the house, Amon, which was to be concluded with Conspiracy in 1989. These two albums were huge in my world. Fine storytelling, lots of melody, lots of heavy riffs from the hands of Andy LaRocque and King himself.
Moving the pointer further south again, more traditional heavy metal was still massive in Germany. Running Wild were riding the waves of success for kraut metal and put out no less than two releases during 1988, and these Germans saturated one’s hunger for pirate adventures. Ready For Boarding came out in February, and Port Royal, the band’s fourth effort and their last album for Noise Records, came out during the Autumn.
In Switzerland, Celtic Frost, many thought, had lost it completely. Tom G. Warrior took the Frost into a completely new and unexpected direction with Cold Lake. The album was an attempt at glam rock and heavy metal, and had thus very little to do with the avant-garde mix of death, black and goth, which had formed the first albums. This was definitely not the high-point of Celtic Frost’s career.
On the periphery of metal, the 1988 releases that would eventually catch my attention were AC/DC’s Blow Up Your Video (although I never really got into AC/DC in any big way), King’s X‘s eminent debut Out of the Silent Planet and the funky heaviness of Living Colour on Vivid.
Seven deadly sins, seven ways to win…
So, as you can see, 1988 was in all respects a year to be reckoned with. The list of majestic releases seems to go on and on. But, hang on, one is missing! That’s right, the heavy metal band that stands above them all also released one of their master pieces in 1988; Iron Maiden gave birth to Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. If I were to point to one album that defines metal music, well, music in general, for me, this would be it. This was the album that had the right sound at the right time for me. It had the story, the tale that encompassed hope, fear, love, darkness, madness, everything. It was nothing like the other two great concept albums of that year, Operation:Mindcrime and “Them”. To me, the Brits quite simply killed the competition.
If you were there, you’ll probably know what kind of a monster 1988 was. If you weren’t, I suggest you check out some of the albums I’ve mentioned above. They’re worth it. For me, they still define the nature of metal music.
Below is a bunch of videos so you can check out some tunes from what is probably my best stab at a top ten of 1988 albums. You can also listen to our 1988 Spotify playlist right here.
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Song: The Clairvoyant
…And Justice For All
Song: …And Justice For All
South of Heaven
Song: Silent Scream
Song: Operation: Mindcrime
Ram It Down
Song: Johnny B. Goode
State of Euphoria
Song: Who Cares Wins
Flotsam and Jetsam
No Place For Disgrace
Song: No Place For Disgrace
Under the Influence
Song: Hello from the Gutter
Song: Pull the Plug