If the story of 1980 to 1984 was how NWOBHM (and more specifically, Iron Maiden) awoke metal from its dormancy to tear the boundaries of popular music, then 1985 - 1987 is about the coronation of thrash metal atop the metal throne, and the subsequent underground rumblings of a closely linked cousin, a blood brother faster, more brutal, and more astonishing -- death metal.
Battle Hag does not write riffs so much as they summon an unusually melodic thunderstorm. Tongue of the Earth is an apt name for the debut album; their doom metal swirls with primeval atmosphere that seems to rumble from the earth itself, rather than from any human artifice. This effect is accomplished by a tremendous attention to detail: the massive bass tone, the low and bestial growls, the slow and towering riffs, the sometimes-ritualistic percussion… the net result is that, at their absolute best, Battle Hag provides the distinct impression that the listener is cowering inside a shallow cave, helpless to explosions of thunder and bludgeons of debris while a formless predator roars in the distance. It’s pretty cool.
Far, far off, on the left hand path of the great metal graveyard, lies an inverted cross bearing the name of Antichrist. (Not to be confused with the seven other Antichrists listed on MA -- it’s a busy job, apparently.) The band was woefully short-lived, surviving only for only three years after their 1983 release of Slaughter in Hell. Despite their short career, Antichrist has one of the oldest and most decrepit tombstones in the entire black metal necropolis. Antichrist had all the anti-Christian verve and groundbreaking ferocity of Venom, but with an added flair for catchy songwriting that should have propelled them to the fore of proto black metal.
Metal, like any current history, is a neverending story -- a songbook perpetually revising its denouement in the storm of new releases shattering our ears and expectations by the month. But as exciting as it is to experience the history unfolding before us, that work is already done by listeners and blogs like this one on a daily basis. Vitally important and critically overlooked, I think, is the history of metal -- the first chapters yellowing in the forty-odd years since they were bound in black and leather. This post, then, will serve as a continuation of this article detailing the early days of metal, and particularly the incredible importance of Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast to the fledgling genre.
The story of metal is not linear. We didn’t arrive at the mayhem lurking in our Spotify playlists through a measured progression of technique, style, and genre. Rather, the evolution came in leaps and bounds, with dead ends and bursts of growth and pockets of innovation. To continue the evolutionary metaphor: the Cambrian Explosion of metal shot off in the mid 1980’s, as subgenres and geniuses and success combined into a specimen closely resembling much of modern metal. But the growth, although frantic, wasn’t instantaneous; rather, it seemed to expand exponentially from a single source, a catalyst in a chain reaction. That incipient band, the patient zero of metal as we know it today, is Iron Maiden. More precisely, the stratospheric success of The Number of the Beast, with it’s intricate compositions, transgressive lyrics, and trailblazing progressivity, diverged metal from hard rock completely and legitimized metal as a commercial viability, heralding the eruption of metal in the years to follow.
Stumbling in funereal darkness, I’ve chanced upon the tomb of a long-forgotten Lord! Their only album, The Second Coming, was released in 1988. That’s a bit late for a Riffs from the Crypt post -- generally, I try to reserve them for bands who had the talent to become pioneers in their respective genres (like Rat Attack), but were unable to break into the mainstream. But what’s special about Lord isn’t that they were groundbreaking in any way -- rather, the reason this album deserves more attention is because it’s a culmination of everything that was good about metal in the 80’s. Nearly every song on the album seems to represent a different era of metal, from its hard rock roots to thrash metal, prog, and everything in between.
Today I’ll be shining some light on riffs long forgotten in the Dark Age of 1984. Much of the 1980’s was an embarrassment of riches for metal. Seemingly every year saw albums catapult bands, and even entire genres, to the leading edge of the metal phenomenon. In the rush and tumble of so much groundbreaking music, it was easy for stellar albums to get pushed to the wayside by albums considered legendary almost as soon as they were released. 1984 was no exception; Metallica continued to Ride the Lightning, bringing the thunder to the thrash metal storm, while Iron Maiden, already the World’s Best Band (in my humble opinion) somehow elevated their position with Powerslave. And all the while, smaller bands oozing talent nipped at their heels, discovering riffs and vocal styles and production techniques never before conceived.