High Variance

Crucial Years in Metal: 1983

Late at night, as I putter around the house folding laundry or washing dishes or putting away toys, I often listen to podcasts. Most are mainstream. For sports, I listen to the BS Report and Grantland NFL; for tech stuff, I listen to Accidental Tech Podcast and Mac Power Users; and for real life, I like This American Life and Dads Being Dads.

My current favorite podcast, however, is not mainstream. The Requiem Metal Podcast features two guys (Mark Rudolph and Jason Hundey) playing and talking about their favorite extreme metal. They started broadcasting in 2008 and have since produced 170 episodes. Every one stands on its own and I’ve had great fun digging into their back catalog to learn more about bands like Immortal, Emperor, and Bolt Thrower.

In their lead up to episode 100, they profiled what they considered the 10 most “crucial” years in metal. These are years that had not just great album releases, but albums that had a big impact on the future of the whole heavy metal genre. Even though Mark and Jason were little kids in the 80’s, they definitely appreciate them in hindsight, and their top 10 includes 4 years from the decade: 1984 (#5), 1985 (#10), 1988 (#9), and 1989 (#1).

I attended high school from 1982 to 1986 and listened to a tremendous amount of metal during that time. I started with hard rock, moved into glam/hair, expanded into classic metal, and loved exploring thrash and the beginnings of extreme metal. My friend Mike and I used to hang out at our local independent record store (Rockin’ Mania) and flip through whatever new (not ) metal came in each week. If the cover looked interesting one of us (usually Mike) would buy it. That’s how we discovered Metallica’s Ride the Lightning, Mercyful Fate’s Don’t Break the Oath, and the amazing Best of Metal Blade compilation albums.

I know I’m biased because 1983 was a particularly crucial year in metal for me, but three very important albums in the history of metal did come out that year:

  1. Kill em all (Metallica). This was the first album by the biggest metal band of all time. It’s not as good as their next two, but it’s one of the first pure thrash records and it rocks.

  2. Shout at the Devil (Motley Crüe) I still remember seeing the album cover in a mall with my mom and being simultaneously scared, repulsed and intrigued. The first song on the album is a weird Satanic-ish sermon (that I can still quote verbatim) and the music is surprisingly heavy for people who think of the Crüe as that band who sang “Girls Girls Girls” and “Home Sweet Home”. For tons of kids like me, this album was a powerful gateway into the world of real metal.

  3. Melissa (Mercyful Fate) Many people have written about how influential this band was on the development of the black metal genre, and extreme metal in general, but on the podcast, Mark often disparages Mercyful Fate by calling them “goofy” or “circus metal”. I’m here to tell you it didn’t come off that way at all back in the day. When my friend Mike bought their second album (Don’t Break the Oath) on a whim, we were completely creeped out the first time he played it. We just didn’t know what to do with the blasphemous lyrics, shreiking vocals, and unbelievably catchy guitar work. I had a copy on cassette which I ended up listening to a few times and then throwing in the trash. Mike did the same thing with his album–it’s like we thought we were destined to burn in hell if we kept them. Now, a little older and wiser we can appreciate the music and laugh at the lyrics. Melissa, their first album, isn’t as good as Don’t Break the Oath, but you can’t have a second without a first.

After high school, I moved away from home and away from metal. When hair metal disappeared from the radio, I thought metal itself had died. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I knew Nü Metal was a thing, but only dabbled a bit with bands like Korn, Disturbed, and even Linkin Park. Later in the 2000’s I learned that music called black metal and death metal existed, but extreme metal can be an acquired taste and I just wasn’t ready. Now, with Mark and Jason’s help, I’m really enjoying filling in the huge gaps in my metal education.