6 Essential New Metal Albums for Fans of Metal from the ’80s
It’s inescapable. Everyone is talking about Master of Puppets, the 1986 Metallica album that’s often regarded as one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time, if not THE greatest. (I’m more of a Ride the Lightning guy, but look, I’m not going to argue against something that’s earned its place in the canon by being legitimately awesome.) The album’s title track has officially entered the singles chart for the first time, over 35 years after its release, thanks to its climactic use in the fourth season of Stranger Things.
It’s honestly pretty exciting to see. While I’ve already seen a few folks on social media complain about overuse of Eddie Munson gifs and that they’ve grown tired of Stranger Things mania (which is also fairly surprise, considering it’s been on since 2016 and the last season aired in 2019—but hey, fun show, I endorse!). But there’s something heartening about seeing a new generation, or perhaps not-so-new generations that missed out the first time, learning about how fun heavy metal is. And that’s always been my selling point, not that metal is extreme or evil or whatever (but extreme, evil metal can be cool, too), but that it’s fun. Case in point: I caught Devil Master in a steamy-as-hell DIY warehouse in Richmond a little over a week ago, and it was an absolute blast despite the stickiness. Big riffs, punk rock speed and energy, and just the right amount of spooky theatrics. It was everything I loved about metal, and if people are getting to discover this through a TV show that nods pretty transparently to its 1980s horror/sci-fi influences and at times feels like an extra-gross young adult novel, well that’s OK by me.
And let’s just get something clear: Metal in the ’80s ruled. I’m generally of the opinion that music gets better all the time, that everything that existed before is always contributing to something that can improve upon the template. But so many of the best (and first of their kind) records in metal were released in the ’80s, from Napalm Death to Slayer, Bathory to Morbid Angel, Judas Priest to Iron Maiden. And as I was listening to some of the records that stood out to me as the best new metal of August, it struck me that many of them carried a heavy influence from many of those 1980s greats. Some of them are lo-fi and raw, some of them stripped down and streamlined, and some of them merely nod in the direction of the titans that came before them. So what the hell; this month I offer you six great new metal albums for fans of ’80s metal, which does not mean that they’re carbon copies or obvious pastiche, but rather that they capture the spirit of what made those records great in the first place. Plus, if you’re just now becoming metal curious thanks to, say, Metallica, well, you just might find something to love here. Alternately, if you stopped listening to metal in 1991 and want to get back into it, might I suggest these six new platters?
This month’s best metal column also coincides with something big happening on Treble in August: ’80s month. We’ll be publishing articles each week that highlight the music of the ’80s, culminating in a really big feature that will reveal something that we’ve been working on all summer. This is just one part of a greater whole, but one way or another, I just hope you discover some great new metal records out of it.
Molder – Engrossed in Decay
RIYL: Autopsy’s Severed Survival, Bolt Thrower’s Realm of Chaos
If there’s a limit to how many new albums from bands playing an old-school style of death metal you can binge in a year, I haven’t hit it yet. Undeath arguably made the record to beat in that arena, with their remarkable It’s Time…to Rise from the Grave, but it’s not as if new competitors stopped entering the ring. Chicago’s Molder, who are Prosthetic labelmates with Undeath, are one such band who offer a take on death metal that emphasizes a greater degree of rawness—the kind of nasty chug you might recognize from early Autopsy records. There’s a simplicity and directness to their sound that’s almost punk rock in its speed, immediacy and efficiency, each track on Engrossed in Decay galloping toward oblivion with little regard for whatever stands in the way. Far from a carbon copy of death metal’s first wave, there’s a lot of thrash in what they do as well, blending urgent badassery with a heaping dose of filth. It’s the perfect ratio for a nasty good time. (Prosthetic)
Gehenna – Negative Hardcore
RIYL: Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing, Hellhammer’s Apocalyptic Raids
West Coast bruisers Gehenna have been tearing up DIY spaces since the early ’90s, which make them one of the few bands here whose members have been around long enough to actually have experienced the extreme sounds of the 1980s firsthand. Negative Hardcore, as raw and snarling a set of blackened hardcore as it is, captures that old-school venom via Discharge-style d-beat bursts and growling, lo-fi black metal in the vein of Hellhammer or early Bathory. There’s no moment wasted here—the 10 songs on Negative Hardcore add up to a lean 18 minutes. But they make the most of it, jackknifing from blistering punk to slow, lurching doom, every moment of which is just dripping with evil. Angry, abrasive and independent as fuck, Gehenna offer a good reminder of why hardcore was so exciting in the first place. (Iron Lung)
No/Mas – Consume/Deny/Repent
RIYL: Terrorizer’s World Downfall, Napalm Death’s From Enslavement to Obliteration
OK, consider this a mea culpa: The second album by Washington, D.C. deathgrind outfit No/Mas actually came out a couple months ago but didn’t make its way into this column for a number of reasons. But look, mid-spring is still new enough, and considering I’m immersing myself in old-school denim vest metal this month, Consume/Deny/Repent fits in here perfectly. Steeped in the razor sharp riffs of pioneers like Terrorizer while carrying the groove-laden ferocity of their neighbors in Pig Destroyer, No/Mas swirl death metal, grindcore and hardcore punk into a circle pit that feels weirdly like home. This music is harsh, and it’s angry as hell, but the pure visceral thrill of hearing these sub-two-minute bursts of bile and violence is something that never fades. (Closed Casket Activities)
Esoctrilihum – Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh
RIYL: Bathory’s Blood Fire Death, Mayhem’s Deathcrush
Look, I’m just as surprised as you are. One of the more reliably prolific and visionary artists on the consistently fascinating I, Voidhanger label, Esoctrilihum landed on my list of 2021’s best metal albums with Dy’th Requiem for the Serpent Telepath, a record that technically comprised black metal songs but rarely sounded so straightforward in its approach. Its follow-up, Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh, is much more direct, lo-fi and hostile. It’s an unusually vintage direction for Esoctrilihum—nobody was actually making black metal that sounded like this in the ’80s, at least not quite yet, but there are threads of Mayhem and Bathory coiled around these venomous riffs and machine-gun rhythms. If someone handed you a tape that sounded like this in 1989, there’s a good chance you actually would believe they were in open communication with the devil, and that, naturally, makes this pretty awesome. (I, Voidhanger)
Critical Defiance – No Life Forms
RIYL: Slayer’s Reign in Blood, Metallica’s Kill ’em All
A wailing guitar solo breaks out within the first 30 seconds of “A World Crumbling Apart,” the leadoff track on No Life Forms. Another one starts around 1:03. If there was any question at the start about whether or not this Chilean group are here to rock like motherfuckers, the answer is most assuredly yes. Steeped in an aesthetically raw and sharp-as-cleavers thrash metal with just enough death metal menace lurking around the edges, No Life Forms manages to recall any number of battle-vest favorites in a manner of minutes: Metallica, Slayer, early Sepultura, every band you play when you need to blow off volcanic levels of steam. Every track here rips in record time, the band’s gallop always threatening to outpace their riffs, but it all holds together in a kind of savage equilibrium. Believe me when I say: Holy shit. (Unspeakable Axe)
Black Magnet – Body Prophecy
RIYL: Ministry’s The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste, Godflesh’s Streetcleaner
A recent Album of the Week here on Treble, Black Magnet’s Body Prophecy represents some of the most best industrial metal of any decade, and you can hear a little bit of any number of different interpretations of it in their sound: Ministry, Godflesh, Big Black on up to more recent standard-bearers like Author & Punisher or Uniform. What sets Oklahoma City’s Black Magnet apart is that they streamline a sound that was essentially perfected in 1989 and turn it into something more direct, efficient and yes, even kind of sexy. This isn’t a long album—you’ll make it through these tense, punishing industrial pulses in just a half-hour, which is fairly impressive given how much of industrial metal is built on repetition. But Black Magnet don’t ever threaten to wear out their welcome. This is the absolute best of the genre, distilled into two-minute rippers that leave a crater in their wake and get the fuck out. (20 Buck Spin)
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.
Yeah this Critical Defiance record is an absolute gem. If you can resist your hand automatically forming the horns and keep your neck still when that second solo kicks in you have no metal in your soul.