10 Best Metal Albums of 1988
Heavy metal was arguably experiencing its greatest commercial success in 1988, having become a dominant force on the touring circuit, the primary medium of MTV, and, to some degree, even across America’s all-important network of terrestrial radio stations.
Apparently ‘80s music fans simply couldn’t get enough of heavy metal’s bombastic sound and presentation, transforming this once neglected, disrespected, underground musical genre into the most obvious reflection of a decade that celebrated excess in all of its manifestations.
However, metal was anything but a unified, let alone uniform phenomenon, and the previous years had witnessed the increasing popularity of two sub-genres, in particular: hair metal and thrash metal, with the former being responsible for much of the aforementioned mainstream acceptance, while the latter continued to satisfy many listeners’ outcast mentality.
So it was rather surprising, as we compiled our list of the 10 Best Metal Albums of 1988, that not a single hair metal LP felt worthy of inclusion -- in part because many bands had effectively sold out to soft rock (Poison, Bon Jovi, etc.) and in part because it had birthed the biggest band in the world in Guns n’ Roses, which proceeded to suck all the air out of the room.
Thrash was another story; still going strong, it continued to breach new audiences in ‘88, growing exponentially around the globe (especially in Germany), revealing impressive young talent like Testament, and delivering important works from two of the genre’s ultimate champions, Metallica and Slayer (even as Megadeth and Anthrax stumbled).
Another conversation point revealed by our Top 10 was the eternal tug of war between traditional and evolutionary forces, and England contributed exemplary albums at either end of the spectrum in the reliable, classic metal purism of Iron Maiden and the reality-warping arrival of Grindcore, led by Napalm Death, among others.
Further avenues of musical experimentation were undertaken in ’88 by acts as distinct as budding death metal innovators Death and occult-themed heavy rockers Danzig; but a more consistent development was the rise of European power metal, which really came of age that year thanks to Helloween and many of their countrymen.
Finally, 1988 was a great year for heavy metal storytelling, since it spawned three of the style’s most enduring concept albums, at the hands of the aforementioned Maiden, Americans Queensryche and the Danish/Swedish horror show led by King Diamond.
In sum, this was evidently a very eventful year in heavy metal history, so we welcome you to confirm that for yourselves via our list of the 10 Best Metal Albums of 1988.