1983’s best albums include a mix of NWOBHM bands with younger, rawer groups like Metallica and Slayer along with two Black Sabbath vocalists. Here are our choices for the best heavy metal and hard rock albums released in 1983.
Metallica were the band that introduced many to a more extreme form of metal, and helped usher in the era of thrash. Their debut album Kill ‘Em All is incredibly influential and started Metallica on the path to becoming the biggest metal band in the world.
It includes numerous iconic songs, several of which the band still plays in their live shows today. “Seek & Destroy” and “Whiplash” are classics, while the instrumental “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth” showed the virtuosity of bassist Cliff Burton. The album includes a couple of tracks co-written by the ousted Dave Mustaine, including “The Four Horsemen.”
After leaving Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio formed Dio with ex-Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice along with guitarist Vivian Campbell and bassist Jimmy Bain. Their debut album Holy Diver eventually went platinum.
The album is packed with memorable songs, with the title track and “Rainbow In The Dark” getting the most exposure. Other standouts include “Stand Up And Shout,” “Straight Through The Heart” and “Don’t Talk To Strangers.” Dio’s vocals, as always, were outstanding, and Campbell’s guitar work is stellar.
By 1983, Bruce Dickinson was well-established in the band. During that era of their career they were on an album per year schedule, and following up 1982’s incredibly successful The Number Of The Beast, which topped our 1982 list, was a daunting task.
Piece Of Mind actually charted higher in the U.S. than Number Of The Beast did. The first album with drummer Nicko McBrain, its best known song is “The Trooper.” Sandwiched between Beast and Powerslave, the album is an underrated one (even though it went platinum), with quality songs such as “Where Eagles Dare” and “Flight Of Icarus.”
Quite a few debut albums are on this list, and that includes Mercyful Fate’s Melissa. It was a spectacular debut featuring otherworldly vocals from King Diamond, who has one of the most recognizable voices in metal, especially his piercing falsetto. He wrote the lyrics, with all the music composed by guitarist Hank Shermann.
The occult lyrics and corpse paint gave them a menacing vibe, and along with other bands of the era, helped develop and popularize the genre of black metal. It’s a brief album clocking in at just 40 minutes, with a plethora of memorable songs such as “Into The Coven” and “Satan’s Fall.”
After taking the number 8 position on our 1982 list, Accept return in 1983 with their most commercially successful album Balls To The Wall. Their fifth full-length, it was their first album to chart in their home country of Germany, and also their initial foray into the U.S. chart.
The title track became an MTV staple, with the album being a little more accessible than Restless & Wild. There’s not a bit of filler, with “Love Child” and “Head Over Heels” a couple of standout tracks. Udo Dirkschneider’s unmistakable vocals and a great performance from guitarists Wolf Hoffmann and Herman Frank make this a classic album.
By 1983, Ozzy Osbourne had created a successful career as a solo artist. His third album Bark At The Moon was the first with guitarist Jake E. Lee, who replaced Randy Rhoads, who was killed in a 1982 plane crash. While Lee is an outstanding guitarist, it’s difficult to replace an all-time great like Rhoads.
The album’s title track was a big hit, and was the first music video that Ozzy made. The ballad “So Tired” was also released as a single and had a nearly identical UK chart position. While not quite as good as his first two albums, it’s still a quality release with many excellent songs.
While both Metallica and Slayer are Bay Area thrash bands whose debuts were released in 1983 and are both part of the “Big 4,” their styles are different. Slayer’s music and imagery is darker, and they have remained pretty faithful to that template over their long career.
In 1983 it didn’t get much more extreme and heavy than Slayer. Though it received mixed reviews at the time, in retrospect there’s no denying Show No Mercy‘s impact and influence. It’s raw and feral with songs like “Die By The Sword” and “Black Magic” that became live staples. This album gave notice that Slayer were a band to be reckoned with, and they remain so today.
One of the most extreme albums on this list is followed by one of the most commercial. Their previous release High ‘n’ Dry made our 1981 list, with Pyromania being the album that put Def Leppard on the map and made them worldwide superstars.
It’s amazing when an album sells more than 10 million copies and isn’t even a band’s most successful (that would be 1987’s Hysteria). Pyromania was packed with radio and MTV hits such as “Photograph,” “Foolin'” and “Rock of Ages.” Opener “Rock! Rock! (Til You Drop)” and “Too Late For Love” are also very good songs. When it comes to pop metal, few do it better than Def Leppard.
Suicidal Tendencies are the third California thrash band whose debut was released in 1983 to make this list. They are quite different from Metallica and Slayer, hailing from southern California with much more of a punk and crossover vibe.
They had a ton of lineup changes over the years, with the constant being frontman Mike Muir. Their self-titled debut helped establish the crossover template, especially the successful single “Institutionalized.” The album is a potent combination of hardcore punk and metal with lyrics from Muir that combine the political, personal and humorous. Like several other albums on this year’s list, it had a wide influence on bands that followed.
Many may not be aware that Metal Health is a groundbreaking album. It was Quiet Riot’s third album, but the first to get a U.S. release (their first two were Japan only). It became the first heavy metal album to go to number one on the Billboard 200 album chart.
“Metal Health” and the Slade cover “Cum On Feel The Noize” were big hits, but the album had other notable tracks as well. “Thunderbird” is a tribute to their former guitarist Randy Rhoads, and “Slick Black Cadillac” is a catchy and memorable song. The band is still around today, but unfortunately their charismatic frontman Kevin DuBrow passed away in 2007.