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The 6 best rock and metal albums of 1986

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1986 was a better time.

The music was better, the films were better, and it was 24 years away from the debut of Nicki Minaj.

To celebrate the year that saw rock at its commercial peak exactly three decades ago, in no particular order, here are my six favourite records to come out of 1986.

Metallica – Master of Puppets

Honestly, how could Master of Puppets not make this list? The third album by thrash metal pioneers Metallica has served as a gateway drug for an infinite amount of metalheads, becoming the initiation that every rock fan has to go through before being able to call themselves a part of the subculture. To call yourself a metalhead and say that you haven’t listened to Master of Puppets is almost blasphemy. 

The record has held the coveted number one spot on countless “best album” lists through the years and has received acclaim not only from the metal press, but the mainstream as well.

Songs like the blistering title track, the thrashing opener 'Battery' and the instrumental 'Orion' showcase Metallica at their most brutal, innovative, adventurous and passionate.

While it may have been its follow-up - 1988’s …And Justice for All – and their 1991 “Black Album” that pushed Metallica onto the global success that they’ve enjoyed up until this very day, it has always been Master of Puppets that has received continued recognition as the band’s best album.

In 1986, Metallica showed the world that speed metal was far more than just the undisciplined mutant offspring of classic rock and hardcore punk.

But they didn’t do it alone…

Slayer – Reign in Blood

Quite possibly the heaviest album ever made by anyone, Slayer’s Reign in Blood is a 29-minute long beating that joins Master of Puppets in the pantheon of great thrash metal albums.

With the subject matter of the lyrics ranging from wars between Heaven and Hell, Satanic sacrifices, insanity and Nazi experimentations in Auschwitz, Reign in Blood is a thoroughly evil experience. And that’s why we love it!

Not to mention the intense instrumentation: once you hear the opening riff of the album’s title track, there is no way that you will ever forget it.

A record that should theoretically scare the living hell out of all who listen was not only received astonishingly well in the metal community, but also in the mainstream press. For an album this heavy to break free of the underground is a testament to Slayer’s skills as musicians.

The graphic nature of the album’s imagery is now considered almost cliché in heavy metal: it’s typical gore, guts and Satan. When people outside of the rock community think of heavy metal, they think of Reign in Blood, more often than not without even realising it. It’s a release embedded in pop culture and one that defined all metal that followed it.

Megadeth – Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?

To conclude my tripartite collection of thrash metal, I present the sophomore release from Dave Mustaine et al.

Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? is similar in numerous ways to Megadeth’s debut: 1985’s Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good. The relentless speed, politically charged lyrics and shredding solos that made Megadeth famous all make a triumphant return, but you can tell that the band has matured in the fourteen month gap between the two albums.

Peace Sells is a much more technical, intricate and complete release than its predecessor, which was marred with production issues and budget limitations. Megadeth utilise their signing to Capitol Records to create an album that is without constraint: the production quality is perfect, the musicianship taken to the next level, the vocals more captivating than ever before.

Every instrument is showcased, from Dave Ellefson’s bass to Gar Samuelson’s drums to Mustaine and Poland’s duelling shredding. Megadeth show off on Peace Sells, and that’s exactly what a group has to do to get noticed.

Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time

The sixth album by NWOBHM mega-stars Iron Maiden may not have been received as well as predecessors like Piece of Mind or Powerslave, but Somewhere in Time still provides the fantastic and intellectual musical experience that we associate with the Beast.

The opener 'Caught Somewhere in Time' sees Maiden turn their eyes away from the historical subjects that brought them their recognition, and instead towards the future. From its cover to its lyrics, Somewhere in Time is just drenched in creative, sci-fi artistry, forming what I believe the best artwork of any Maiden album released to date.

And while the closing 'Alexander the Great' may not be as epic as other final tracks from the band’s repertoire like 'Hallowed Be Thy Name' or 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', it is a powerful end to a perfectly solid and underrated entry in the Iron Maiden lineage.

Lyrically and musically – with its introduction of keyboards and synthesisers – the record tried something new. And that is something I truly respect, especially from a band as huge as Iron Maiden were and still are.

Metal Church – The Dark

An entry you’re probably less familiar with, Metal Church’s second album, The Dark, showcases a fusion of thrash and power metal that is guaranteed to kick you in the teeth.

The high-pitched, screaming vocals of the late David Wayne add a savagery to the releases that is only complimented by the blistering guitar-work of Craig Wells and Kurdt Vanderhoof.

Initially an underground hit, The Dark returned to the attention of the heavy metal community last year when Corey Taylor’s Stone Sour covered the notorious title track.

Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

The third release from New Jersey hair metallers Bon Jovi is the perfect mixture of rock music instrumentation with melodic pop lyricism.

To put it simply, everything on Slippery When Wet is catchy as hell, containing some of Bon Jovi’s most famous songs like 'Wanted Dead or Alive', 'You Give Love a Bad Name' and the rock radio mainstay 'Livin’ on a Prayer'.

The album managed to mix classic Jovi hard rock with power ballads galore, such as 'Without Love' and 'I’d Die for You': it’s truly an album that can appeal to rock, pop and metal fans alike thanks to its mix of grandiosity, awesome guitar riffs and memorable, anthemic choruses.

For a record to be able to draw the attention of these three separate cultures of music fans is no small feat, and is a perfect example of why the New Jersey rockers are still beloved by men and women, young and old, to this very day.

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