Thanks to James D. for this idea of doing underrated albums (check out his picks here). I do not have the patience that he does, so I could not do a top 30. Instead, I will do multiple posts and break it down by years. For ease and simplicity, I will start with the 80s. My picks below have nothing to do with albums sales, but instead have to do with the impression of the release in the metal community. I will also leave out the obvious picks of some of my favorite albums from the 80s (like Judas Priest, KISS, Dio, Metallica, etc.) and focus on some lesser talked about albums.
Here is my lists of underrated metal albums from the 80s in no particular order.
Bang Tango – Psycho Cafe (1989)
Bang Tango’s debut album, Psycho Cafe, was so far away from hair metal at the time, but no one ever realized it. All they saw were a bunch of pretty boys and most people never even bothered to listen to the album. First off, Joe Leste’s vocals are awesome. Secondly, if you listen to the album, you will see that they are by no means a hair metal band. Their riffs are groovy and intricate. Each song on the album is pretty darn good with some amazing standouts including Attack of Life, Someone Like You, Wrap My Wings, Don’t Stop Now, Do What You’re Told and Sweet Little Razor.
Cinderella – Night Songs (1986)
Another band that became so much more than a hair band was Cinderella. Luckily, I grew up close to the band, so I got to see them a lot at the Empire Rock Club in Philadelphia, PA. Their debut album is amazing. Tom Keifer is another vocalist that I love. If you want to talk about standout songs, you pretty much have this entire album.
Powermad – Absolute Power (1989)
This album completely took me by surprise. This album was released back in the day when you would buy albums based on their artwork because there was no World Wide Web to read about these bands like there is today. You would basically go to the record shop, pick and album and prey that it was good. We would be wrong most of the time, but sometimes, you would find that hidden gem, and Powermad’s Absolute Power is truly a hidden gem. While I was never entirely sold on the vocals, the album is held together by uber-sweet riffs. This is a must-add to your collection.
Savatage – Hall of the Mountain King (1987)
I could pretty much go with any Savatage album before Gutter Ballet here, but I will go with the big one. Savatage was on some people’s radar with The Dungeons Are Calling and Power of the Night, but after Fight for the Rock, a lot of people wrote them off as being too cheesy. Then, they hit us with Hall of the Mountain King, which does not have a weak moment and has the amazing title track.
Overkill – The Years of Decay (1989)
Overkill is another band where I could list pretty much anything from their discography, but The Years of Decay is just an epic album that never gets old. Bobby Gustafson’s guitar tone is shredding and I miss him in metal big time. The last I heard, he was working for his family plumbing business after a few failed projects after leaving/being fired from (depending on which side of the story you believe) Overkill.
Oz – Fire in the Brain (1983)
Fire in the Brain is well respected by musicians in the metal community, but it never reallys gets it due. It is a short release, but ask any Finnish band who they respected in the 80s and Oz would be right up there.
Sanctuary – Refuge Denied (1987)
Rumor has it that Warrel Dane (Nevermore) actually injured himself recording vocals for this release and that is why the immediate change in vocal style for Into the Mirror Black, but Dane was simply amazing on their debut release. Listen to songs like Battle Angels and Sanctuary to see what I mean. White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane cover) even featured the opening guitar solo played by Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) who produced this album.
Sepultura – Schizophrenia (1987)
Troops of Doom – enough said. Actually, it was tough picking this ahead of Beneath the Remains, but I am only including one album per band. We all know that Sepultura had an explosion in the 90s where they became an elite group until Max left, but they were still unknowns in the 80s.
Heathen – Breaking the Silence (1987)
The album is very solid, but I always go back to Set Me Free (Sweet cover) every once in a while because it rocks.
Death Angel – The Ultra-Violence (1987)
Here is some intense thrash for you. There are so many classics on this album, but none as intense as the instrumental title track. Thankfully, they reformed recently and have since released more nice thrash albums.
Nuclear Assault – Game Over (1986)
Too many good songs to list on here, but it seems like this is their album with the best tunes on it. I am not a big fan of Nuclear Assault’s catalog, but I sure love Game Over.
These last two are reaches, but I have to add them in here.
Babylon A.D. – Babylon A.D. (1989)
This one is a true reach. I cannot really listen to the album anymore, but there were a few really sweet songs on here like Bang Go the Bells, Caught Up in the Crossfire and The Kid Goes Wild.
L.A. Guns – Cocked & Loaded (1989)
Once again, not an album that I listen to these days, but Cocked & Loaded has some sweet songs on it. Malaria still rocks to this day.
I am sure that I am missing a ton of albums on here, but this list was put together rather quickly.