As this hellacious year comes to its end, I’ve been combing my music collection for solid albums to listen to. I go through phases: sometimes it’s tons of playlists, sometimes albums, sometimes no music at all – rather podcasts and audiobooks.
In my dredging of my music collection (pretty large: somewhere around 15,000 songs. I love my music and I’m very willing to pay for it to own it. I’m not a streaming service person), I came to realize that there was a particular year that was amazing for metal: 1988.
That realization is, of course, salted with the knowledge that 1988 is in contention with 2003 as the worst years of my life. Sorry, 2020, you’re a minor nuisance compared to those two. COVID-19 has nothing on the gaslighting my first girlfriend gave me in May of ’88, and the rotten grades that spurred my sire to tie me to a chair and beat me with a belt. Looking back, 1988 wins the dubious honor of being my worst year thus far. I suppose that’s what makes the music from that year some of the albums I still listen to very special, since I still listen from end to end very happily. Let’s take a look.
- Anthrax – State of Euphoria
- Armored Saint – Saints Will Conquer
- Bon Jovi – New Jersey
- Cinderella – Long Cold Winter
- Danzig – Danzig
- Lita Ford – Lita
- Frehley’s Comet – Second Sighting
- Guns ‘N Roses – G’NR Lies
- Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part II
- Iron Maiden – Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
- Judas Priest – Ram It Down
- Kix – Blow My Fuse
- Living Colour – Vivid
- Megadeth – So Far, So Good…So What!
- Metallica – …And Justice For All
- Overkill – Under The Influence
- Ozzy Osbourne – No Rest For The Wicked
- Poison – Open Up And Say…Ah!
- Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime
- Ratt – Reach For The Sky
- Raven – Nothing Exceeds Like Excess
- David Lee Roth – Skyscraper
- Sanctuary – Refuge Denied
- Slayer – South Of Heaven
- Suicidal Tendencies – How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can’t Even Smile Today?
- Testament – The New Order
- Vinnie Vincent Invasion – All Systems Go
- Vixen – Vixen
Obviously, this is a less-than-complete list. These are just the albums I bought and went nuts over…and still do. I’ll take a couple that have been the most influential on me.
#5 Raven – Nothing Exceeds Like Excess
A little-known band, and an album that was hard to come by at the time, this disc has recently undergone the remastering process and the quality is superb. This is, in the immortal words of RazorFist, all killer and no filler. And I’m not kidding – not a bad song on the disc, and absolutely nothing slow. Raven didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously and apparently had a great time making this album, because that’s what comes through. It’s straight-up, in your face metal. No sub-genre, no shit. If you want to drive really fast or play some old-school FPS games with your own soundtrack, I highly recommend this album.
#4 Frehley’s Comet – Second Sighting
I’m a lifelong Kiss fan, so when axeman Ace Frehley left Kiss and started a new band, I was there. Literally. Frehley’s Comet opened for Iron Maiden on their debut tour and I thankfully got to go. So when their second effort landed, I was all over it. In retrospect, it’s a totally meh album, I have to admit. “Insane” is still a favorite song of mine, as is “The Acorn Is Spinning.” But it was the link between the Tod Howarth-sung “Fallen Angel” and my gaslighting first girlfriend that made this album have such an impact on me. I’d been calling her that and then the album landed and there was this song, so it fit. Especially after the brutal way she dumped me. Yeesh. I still have nightmares about that whole thing. One of many reasons why ’88 sucked so badly.
#3 Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime
Say what you like about anything else by Queensryche, this album should be on everyone’s top 50 of all time. I don’t care what kind of music you like, this thing rules. Rock opera at its finest, telling the story of a junkie hitman, his unrequited love for a nun, and the scummy politics and sentiments of the late 80’s. While it spawned three singles, you absolutely have to listen to this from beginning to end to get its full potential. It too received the remaster treatment back in 2013, and it needed the sound upgrade – the original pressing of the CD did not age well.
#2 Megadeth – So Far, So Good…So What!
Unlike most early Megadeth fans, this album was the one that converted me from a fan to a raving lunatic for the “World’s State-of-the-Art Speed Metal Band.” Most fans would tell you that it was Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? that took their breath away, and I agree, it’s a classic. More classic than this one. But, like Second Sighting above, this one has a specific song and a specific reason for being here: “In My Darkest Hour.” I have never been quite able to explain to folks who ask me why I like this song so much how instrumental a song about suicide actually helped me not kill myself back then. Mustaine has said that fans have written him about how it made them feel not alone in their desperation, and I guess that kind of works some. But, for me, what it did was take my fears, take my desires to end it all, and make me take a hard look at them. I had to face my fears every time I listened to it. I drew strength from it.
All that being said, the album is one of their weaker ones, sonically. I’ve heard it described as “three guys working for Mustaine.” But, “Into The Lungs Of Hell,” “Set The World Afire,” and “502” are blistering speed metal at its finest. A lot of folks complain about their version of “Anarchy In The U.K.” but it has never bothered me that the lyric changes don’t make sense; it’s still a song to blow your eardrums out and the video for it is brutal.
#1 Metallica – …And Justice For All
This disc sits at number one for me for only one reason: it’s the album that got me to move my favorite sub-genre from hair metal and power metal to thrash. Back in ’88, the crappy quality of the physical cassettes put out by the label meant that, yeah the clear plastic cassette was cool, but the printing on it was rubbed right the hell off after only a few months of listening. And the cassette itself was of such poor quality that I went through three copies before giving up and moving to CDs (which are also of pitiful recording quality. Metallica recently remastered all of their catalog, but I’m sorry, I’m not paying $25 for a louder version. Y’ain’t worth it, Lars).
Despite a terrible recording and engineering job that left none of the tracks with a noticeable bass line, “Blackened,” “…And Justice For All,” and “The Shortest Straw” are some killer tracks. Of course, everyone is familiar with their first video and single, “One.” Which is actually the weakest of the three like-produced (Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets being the other two) albums’ slow songs. Didn’t matter. Like I said, I played this one so much I broke the tapes three times over. If it weren’t for this album, I wouldn’t be the metalhead I am today.