The Best Heavy Metal Albums Of The 1980s

The eighties were a fantastic decade for heavy metal. Some of the best metal albums ever were released in that decade. The 1980s saw the explosion of metal into the mainstream, with tons of bands getting radio and MTV airplay. It also saw the birth and rise of more extreme genres of metal. Among the thousands of metal albums released in the decade, here are our choices for the very best of the 1980s.

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Metallica - 'Master Of Puppets' (1986)

Metallica - Master Of Puppets
Metallica - Master Of Puppets.

Metallica's third album is their best. It doesn't have the radio singles and MTV videos as some of their later releases​ but is a musical tour de force.

From the trademark thrash of "Battery" to the instrumental stylings of "Orion," it's a sound of a band on top of their game. The songs are diverse and the musicianship is simply incredible.

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Slayer - 'Reign In Blood' (1986)

Slayer - Reign In Blood
Slayer - Reign In Blood.

This is one of the top 3 thrash metal albums and one of the top 10 metal albums ever. Many publications have named it the best metal album ever. This is speed metal at its finest, with compact songs jam-packed with riffs and headbanging intensity.

The lyrics are also filled with dark and disturbing images. Slayer released several fantastic albums, and this is their masterpiece.

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Iron Maiden - 'The Number Of The Beast' (1982)

Iron Maiden - Number Of The Beast
Iron Maiden - Number Of The Beast.

After losing their lead singer, Iron Maiden found Bruce Dickinson and rebounded with their best album and one that is a true heavy metal classic. "Run To The Hills" and the title track are among the best singles you'll ever hear, and there is not a bit of filler on this album.

It features spectacular and diverse songwriting, great vocals from Dickinson and is one of the best metal albums ever.

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Metallica - 'Ride The Lightning' (1984)

Metallica Ride the Lightning

 Megaforce Records

Metallica's first album was groundbreaking, and Ride The Lightning, their second release, was another big step forward. Their songwriting improved dramatically, and they also expanded their musical horizons and the result was a much more diverse effort.

Some of the classics on this album include "Creeping Death," "Fade To Black" and "For Whom The Bell Tolls."

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Judas Priest - 'British Steel' (1980)

Judas Priest - British Steel
Judas Priest - British Steel.

After releasing several good albums in the 1970's, this is the one that sent Judas Priest to the stratosphere. It is widely considered to be their best album.

By this time Priest had refined and perfected their sound and focused on writing catchy arena rock anthems, and they hit home runs with "Breaking The Law" and "Living After Midnight."

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Queensryche - 'Operation Mindcrime' (1988)

Queensryche - Operation: Mindcrime


With their third album, Queensryche brought together a great concept and great songs. Operation Mindcrime tells a story filled with political intrigue and romance. The songs are complex, yet catchy, and Geoff Tate's vocals never sounded better.

Highlights include "Eyes Of A Stranger" and "I Don't Believe In Love." As a political statement of what was happening at the end of the Reagan era, it is very effective. As a musical statement, it's even more effective.​

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Metallica - 'Kill 'Em All' (1983)

Metallica - Kill 'Em All

  Megaforce Records

Metallica didn't invent thrash, but they certainly brought it to the masses, and this album is the one that started it all. Their debut album was groundbreaking, packed with raw power and blazing fast riffs that they would polish and perfect over the years.

Dave Mustaine co-wrote several songs on this album, although he was no longer a member of the band by this time. Highlights include "Whiplash," "No Remorse" and "Seek and Destroy."

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Metallica - 'And Justice For All' (1988)

Metallica - And Justice For All
Metallica - And Justice For All.

Metallica's fourth studio album is the one that launched them into the mainstream. The video for the song "One" received extensive airplay on MTV. One of my all time favorite Metallica songs, "Blackened," is also on this album.

And Justice For All was one of their most musically complex album, utilizing unusual time signatures, orchestration and epic compositions.

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Megadeth - 'Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?' (1986)

Megadeth - Peace Sells...But Who's Buying
Megadeth - Peace Sells...But Who's Buying.

Megadeth really hit their stride on this, their second album. It's a speed metal classic with great songs like "Wake Up Dead," "Devil's Island" and "Peace Sells."

The band's songwriting improved quite a bit from their debut album and 20 years later it still holds up extremely well.

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Dio - 'Holy Diver' (1983)

Dio - Holy Diver
Dio - Holy Diver.

After fronting Rainbow and Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio formed his own group. He did a great job selecting his bandmates. Vivian Campbell is an outstanding guitarist and Vinny Appice a rock solid drummer.

Their debut is a heavy metal classic. Dio has one of the best voices in metal, and some put him at the top. All 9 songs on the album are excellent, including the hits "Rainbow In The Dark" and the title track. "Stand Up And Shout" is also a very memorable song.

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Exodus - 'Bonded By Blood' (1985)

Exodus - Bonded By Blood
Exodus - Bonded By Blood.

Exodus' debut album was their commercial and critical pinnacle. Even though they've had a long and successful career, they never matched the success of thrash counterparts like Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax.

This album, though, is spectacular. It's a thrash classic with music played at breakneck speed with a barrage of killer riffs and solos. And even though it's a whirlwind of intensity, the songs are still very catchy and memorable.

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Ozzy Osbourne - 'Blizzard Of Ozz' (1980)

Ozzy Osbourne - Blizzard Of Ozz


After leaving Black Sabbath to embark on a solo career, Ozzy Osbourne hooked up with guitarist Randy Rhoads, and the result was a fantastic album. It was more technical and modern than Sabbath, thanks to Rhoads and his guitar virtuosity.

There are some great songs on this album, including "Crazy Train" and the controversial "Suicide Solution."

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Judas Priest - 'Screaming For Vengeance' (1982)

Judas Priest - Screaming For Vengeance

 Judas Priest

After having my number 2 album of 1980, Judas Priest claims the same spot for 1982. The best known song from this album is "You've Got Another Thing Comin'," but there are several other great songs including the title track, "Electric Eye" and "Bloodstone."

Halford sounds great as usual, and this is their second best album of the 1980s.

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Slayer - 'Hell Awaits' (1985)

Slayer - Hell Awaits


Their masterpiece would come one year later, but this is also a fantastic album. It was their second full-length and showed an exponential growth in their songwriting ability.

The songs on this album are complex, the guitar work is flawless, and Dave Lombardo's drumming is simply insane. In 1985 this was as extreme as it got, both musically and lyrically.

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Morbid Angel - 'Altars Of Madness' (1989)

Morbid Angel - Altars Of Madness

 Morbid Angel

If this had been written back in 1989 this album probably wouldn't have been number one. With the passing of time, it became obvious just how important Morbid Angel and this release were. It was a brutal slab of death metal with ferocious vocals from David Vincent.

Trey Azagthoth and Richard Brunelle's riffs and solos are just sick, and Pete Sandoval is one of the best drummers in metal. Altars Of Madness is a groundbreaking album that all death metal fans should own.

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Annihilator - 'Alice In Hell' (1989)

Annihilator - Alice In Hell
Annihilator - Alice In Hell.

The Canadian thrash band Annihilator blasted upon the scene with a monstrous debut album. Jeff Waters and company tore through the album with raw power and energy along with excellent technical skill. Waters and Anthony Greenham really shined with their outstanding guitar work.

Randy Rampage's raw and emotional vocals were a good fit as well. Annihilator has had dozens of lineup changes over the years, and their debut remains one of their best efforts.

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Iron Maiden - 'Powerslave' (1984)

Iron Maiden - Powerslave

 Iron Maiden

Powerslave was a great album that was the complete package. It had the catchy radio and MTV friendly singles like "Aces High" and "2 Minutes To Midnight," but also had an instrumental and long, complex songs.

"Rime Of The Ancient Mariner" clocked in at an astonishing 13 minutes long. Great songwriting and musicianship make this album one of their best.

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King Diamond - 'Abigail' (1987)

King Diamond - 'Abigail'

 King Diamond

His second full-length solo album was also King Diamond's tour de force. His vocal performance on Abigail is outstanding as he sings with great power and range. The harmonies are also excellent. The storyline of the album is also very riveting and compelling and gives the listener an emotional connection with the material.

Even though it is a solo album, the contributions of guitarist Andy LaRoque and drummer Mikkey Dee help take the album to an even higher level.

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Anthrax - 'Among The Living' (1987)

Anthrax - Among The Living


Anthrax is a group I've come to appreciate more and more as the years go by, and Among The Living was their best album. The songs had a message and were catchy yet still very intense and aggressive.

"Caught In A Mosh" is the highlight of this album, along with other great songs such as "Indians," "I Am The Law" and the title track. Anthrax have always been a band with a sense of humor that is also willing to address serious subjects, which is a great combination.

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Black Sabbath - 'Heaven and Hell' (1980)

Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell
Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell.

With lead singer Ozzy Osbourne leaving the band, many thought Black Sabbath's future was bleak. But by choosing Ronnie James Dio as the new vocalist they proved everyone wrong.

Between Dio's great pipes and Tony Iommi's excellent guitar work, the band delivered one of their best albums in years. Standout songs include "Children Of The Sea," "Neon Nights" and the title track.