Ok, I am starting again on my lists going from the year I first got into metal. Why? Well, lockdown and time off work.
MacabreEternal's Top Ten Albums from 1989
Number Ten - Skid Row - self titled
The list starts with two records that hold massive nostalgia for me personally and also two releases that still get rotation play some thirty years later. Skid Row were every mother's nightmare and every school girl's dream. Five long haired, full-bloodied young men singing about tits, broken hearts, prison sentences, romantic nostalgia and partying was absolute sustenance to a generation of youth unable to be satiated by the likes of more mature acts such as Aerosmith and the Scorpions and unimpressed by the softer proclivities of the Bon Jovi's of the time.
This was hard rock with a real metal edge that had no reliance on make up and hairspray like Poison or Motley Crue to sell the gimmick. The debut album from Skid Row grabbed hold of you by the collar with both hands and shook the living shit out of you. When you weren't drenched in it's rampant hooks or being left breathless by the sultry tones of Sebastian Bach you were virtually drowning in your levels of adrenaline, stimulated to the point of flat-lining on the sheer energy of the record.
Hit singles like Piece of Me, Youth Gone Wild, I Remember You and 18 & Life had the band a household name setting them up for their eventual number one position on the billboard chart with their sophomore release some two years later. They never topped this release for me though and although I steadily drifted away from the band over subsequent releases, I still come back to this record to this day.
Number Nine - Motley Crue - Dr Feelgood
One of the first albums I ever owned on vinyl (sadly long since gone) was the fifth release from glam rockers Motley Crue. There was nowhere to hide here from the sleazy allure of the endless stream of hit singles like the title track, Kickstart My Heart, Without You, Same Ol' Situation and Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away) as the tracklisting as a whole just buried it's hooks in you and clung on for dear life.
You can feel it on a record when a band is in the zone. When they are hitting all the markers with effortless precision (which considering all the shit in the veins of the members was no mean feat), when they are delivering without breaking a sweat, where they just serve the years of experience onto a smoking hot platter with sufficient garnish and sauce to make the taste linger in your mouth for years. Vince, Mick, Tommy and Nikki did exactly all of the above, flying out of the traps from the opening of the record and making sure the dust wasn't going to settle too soon before they headed back.
Another record that for me has never been topped by the band and actually the only record of theirs that I still own to this day. Nothing else before or after this release had the same level of impact, the same immediacy or equal presence. A quick look back at the Honorable Mentions part at the start of this section should tell you that the competition this year was tough, but the Crue shone through brilliantly.
Number Eight - Macabre - Gloom
Yep from hard rock to death thrashing grindcore and the disturbing and morbid fascination with murder of Illinois' Macabre.
All bets are off on this record as to just what the fuck you are going to get next on this twenty four and a half minute fest of spazzing, jerking and convulsing "murder metal" as it blasts its way through nineteen tracks of serial killer related lyrical gibberish.
Humour aside, there's almost a lazy intelligence to this record that borders on genius. The shock value of taking some of history's most notorious serial killers and writing two minutes (max) songs about their exploits is niche I grant you. But to be able to expand on that by utlising some of the most simplistic lyrics adds an almost layman like style to proceedings that you just can't fail to be enamored by. Case in point, on track two Trampled to Death (a song about the death of 11 fans at a Who concert in the 70s):
"You went to see the Who
And the people there trampled you
You were underneath their shoes
There was nothing you could do"
As laughable as it is, there's still very clear contrast between the baseness of the lyrics and the unpredictable nature of the music that serve as an excellent combination to give real dimension to proceedings. You see, this isn't just a few immature kids writing music to upset their parents, whether planned or not there is a striking juxtapose in the songwriting here that adds weight to the appeal of the record beyond just its lyrical or musical content in singularity.
We got treated to more of the same in a slightly more structured way on the follow up to this release, Sinister Slaughter, which further cemented the band as a force to be reckoned with. However, the importance of the debut to both death metal and more specifically grindcore at the time is of massive importance, over and above even the World Downfall or Horrified's from the same year.
Number Seven - Faith No More - The Real Thing
Occupying a more eclectic spot on the list for this year is the third album from alternative/avant-garde rock/metal's most revered exponents, Faith No More.
I will be honest, this was a late addition to the list after I revisited it when the list was almost complete. The memory nodes that this review listen triggered in my brain went into overdrive more or less immediately and I soon found myself predicting the next riff or lyric like I had never been away from this record.
What occured to me when looking at this album was that at the time of its release it didn't really make any significant waves in my world. I was fucking pissed off at the time with the song Epic as the music video was on virtually everytime I switched the TV on and although I enjoyed the album it was not an instant standout until some years later and this feeling was confirmed upon revisit. Bear in mind that this came out before grunge ever became a thing or nu-metal sometime later and for its time this record made that connection between having enough metal to be considered acceptable but also creating that bridge over into more mainstream tastes also.
Its brand of sometimes funk, sometimes rock, sometimes ballad and sometimes lounge music was something you would expect historically from a Frank Zappa record. It oozed cross-disciplinary music style and still had a catchiness most pop artists would kill for. The balance within the individual instruments was really well set too. You could hear Big Jim's riffs alongside Bottum's keys and hear Patton's nasal and sneering vocals just as well as Boden's drums and Gould's funky bass.
This was the first album to feature Mike on vocals and he took just two weeks to write all the lyrics for the already fully written album. Not bad for an album that went on to be certified platinum in the US and gold in the UK.
Number Six - Autopsy - Severed Survival
Two years after Reifert was one half of the duo that created the whole death metal genre with Scream Bloody Gore, he partook in the release of a real lumbering beast of a record that sacrificed any form of burnished delivery, opting instead to go for a clumsy and lurching approach to death metal.
If Scream Bloody Gore was the college football symbol figure of death metal then Severed Survival was it's estranged, butt-fuck ugly brother with a murderous intent coupled with a truly sick imagination. The guy who ate roadkill without even cooking it.
With its first press artwork banned, the debut release was off to a real flyer in terms of cult status on the underground, and with song titles like Disembowel, Ridden with Disease and Embalmed the album was full of horrific promise to appeal to the average death metal consumer of the time.
Severed Survival was sticky in a seedy and grimy way in the sense that it stuck in your brain because the riffs were almost slapped out onto the vinyl and they left the same mess on your memory banks once you span the record. The looming threat of the instrumentation, coupled with the demented ramblings of Reifert made for a truly ghastly experience. Unapologetic in its delivery and unwaivering in its momentum the album sounded like your mate's death metal band that practised in someone's garage but didn't care to refine anything and just took it into the studio raw and then sacked the producer for any attempt to clean any of the recorded output up.
Take a look at what else was out there at this time in the world of death metal and you will quickly see that there was a uniqueness to Autopsy that was absent virtually everywhere else in the scene. The debut isn't their best release but it is still massively important.
Number Five - Sodom - Agent Orange
Sodom's progression from their dark and dank first couple of releases to a more refined and accessible sound on Persecution Mania was a taste of what to expect come on their third full-length.
By now their blackened roots were all but a memory and the focus had shifted to retaining the aggression but deploying sufficient levels of melody to really open them up to the wider market. Songs like Remember The Fallen pushed the more melodic riffing throughout the whole song whilst the more frenzied pace was exemplified on the title track. There was even more of the punk vibe continued from Bombenhagel on the previous album with the single Ausgebombt (which also included the cover of Tank's Don't Walk Away which made into onto the two disc, 2010 digpak release of Agent Orange).
Whilst less technical than fellow Germans Kreator, the more immediate nature of the Sodom sound simply made the album more entertaining than Extreme Aggression which had tried that more full-frontal assault approach to less effect the same year. Arguably it was too simplistic for some and has seen many reviews stating that Agent Orange is overrated in the grander scheme of things.
I find that true to some extent as there is nothing groundbreaking on this album yet when you measure its significance in the overall discography of the band it is a vital release, one that shows maturity as a band without needing to reinvent the wheel. Sodom had mastered their art form to some degree here and had retained enough of their character to not sound like a sell out.
My exploration of the back-catalogue to date has not gleaned anything in there to top this release (I haven't heard every Sodom release but there aren't many left)and it still gets rotation play to this day, preserving a deserved mid-list spot well.
Number Four - Pestilence - Consuming Impulse
The rabid death/thrash sound of the debut album from Pestilence Malleus Maleficarum was replaced by a more straight forward death metal sound. Still a massively riffy affair, Consuming Impulse was the sound of extreme music delivered skillfully.
Patrick Mameli's dexterity on guitar knows no bounds on the band's sophomore release. He took simple riffing and elevated into a frenzied intensity that still had enough in the way of catchiness to make them memorable and repeatable, either in your head or on your own six string. On the same record there were still more complex passages that showed his range yet still they gave space to Van Drunen who set about his trademark unhinged, deranged and crazed vocal style to great effect on what was to be his final release with the band (very much a big loss as it turned out to be).
This was all from a band several thousand of miles away from the developing US death metal scene, yet the Dutch band from Enschede, Overijssel dropped an album of such magnitude and presence that it could trade blows with the Morbid Angel's and Obituary's of the time and only narrowly lose out on points.
In a rapidly developing scene the release of Consuming Impulse showed just how the spread of death metal could infect the European market as it went on to infect the world. This album acted like a super-spreader, taking all the good elements of the debut and marrying them up with an enhanced arsenal of riffs and howls. The rabid thrashing of the debut became the threat of greater devastation from a slightly more measured delivery.
Number Three - Sepultura - Beneath The Remains
I am a big fan of what I term to be "golden runs" of albums. A series of albums by the same band that show continued development and progress on each release, often taking what starts as a very raw and primitive sound that can rely on little more than attitude to carry it through a debut release and then watch that grow into a more refined yet by no means less threatening prospect.
An example of such a band is Sepultura. Their releases from 1985 through 1991 are a consistent and incremental improvement with each release. From the crudity and vulgarity of Bestial Devastation to the rabid and and yet systematic assault of Arise, the band's sound, stature and reputation grew steadily. By the time 1989 rolled around they had a record deal, a fledgling Scott Burns sat in the producer's chair and a hastily written album to deliver.
They missed their first recording deadline for this record. They simply did not have enough material written by the time Roadrunner had signed off on the deal. Despite years of waiting for the big contract to become a reality, Sepultura weren't actually ready when the time came.
This could so easily have been a disaster. Running late on the timeline, with a producer who had never done the job solo before (let alone outside of Morrisound Studios back home in Florida) all with a language barrier to overcome to boot. The fact that anything got recorded at all is a real feat in itself.
Beneath The Remains sent Sepultura into the upper stratosphere of not just thrash metal but metal in general. Hailed as a rival to Reign In Blood at the time (it isn't to my ears btw) the raw brutality of the riffing style of the band came alive in the hands of a good producer in a decent studio. The fury and range of the vocal and rhythmic abilities of the Cavalera brothers were captured superbly and the excellence of their songwriting shone for the first time.
The essence of many albums on this list is that they not only represent landmark releases for the year for me but also landmark releases for the bands also. Sepultura had one more trick up their sleeve when they released Arise some two years later, an album which was the very pinnacle of their powers. But Beneath The Remains wiped the floor with all other thrash releases in 1989 and was a release from a band truly hitting their stride.
Number Two - Morbid Angel - Altars of Madness
"One man's insanity is another man's genius and from these altars of madness the heretic rejoices in things unseen"
According to Trey Azagthoth there was no more fitting a title for their debut album than Altars of Madness. Anyone who has heard it would be hard pushed to disagree. The classic line-up of the aforementioned Azagthoth, fellow guitarist Richard Brunelle (R.I.P 2019), drummer Pete Sandoval and bassist/vocalist David Vincent conjured a mind-bending and horrific opus back in 1989 that to this day retains every last drop of the nefarious intent behind its commital to tape.
Altars of Madness is a timeless release. It will still be as relevant in 60 years time as it is at just over 30 years. The true essence of death metal sits within the very grooves of the vinyl that sits on my shelf today. It is extreme, it is full of menace and shock and yet is skillfully balanced as a full-length. The intensity it generates never rages out of control, even in the more horrorific moments, due in no small part to the proficiency of guitarists to cast sonic spells in the midst of tempestuous and violent tides of riffs that temper and add depth at the same time.
The riffs on opener Immortal Rites mine the very depths of the earth via the speakers from which their hellish sound emits. The sonics score and scorch the air around them as they fire as brief licks that stoke the flames.
By his own admission, Trey's non-conformity with certain keys or scales made this the music of pure chaos in the face of known foundational order. The album was his opportunity to challenge the norms he so despised and to commit this distaste to record regardless of the confusion that it spread as a result.
The performance of Pete Sandoval is a masterclass in blastbeats, a show stopping performance in hyperspeed rhythms and calculated auditory punishment. David Vincent meanwhile sits astride of the engine, reving it with his ghastly vocals, dropping in guttural frequency that could reverberate from the bowels of hades themselves.
Morbid Angel's debut is a complete experience. It is replete with the finest death metal you could hope to hear and is firmly sat in the top ten death metal albums of all time. It is only beaten to the top spot on this list due to sheer nostalgia for the album that occupies the top slot. For two albums though, Morbid Angel were untouchable. Unique in their sound with that cavernous edge to the riffs that seemed to defy the laws of distance and space and utterly devoted to their task of delivering piercing and racking death metal.
Number One - Obituary - Slowly We Rot
There's a story here so bearwith. I had never heard any death metal when I bought this album. I had read about it in magazines and fallen madly in love with the idea of what sounded evil just by it's description of "death metal". I bought Slowly We Rot completely blind/deaf for two reasons therefore. Firstly, because I wanted to be an edgy little fucker who owned some of that death metal stuff that would scare people and secondly because of that FUCKING ALBUM ARTWORK!
There is nothing to not like about that album cover when you are thirteen and trying to be the Prince of Darkness in a village in the North West of England in the late eighties armed with a bus pass and a Music Zone carrier bag that you are not going to use because you want everyone to see what a menacing fucker you are with your blood-soaked record under your arm and a million zits on your face! Seriously though, that logo! The font for the title! The seedy and grimy imagery of a youth decaying in a gutter spoke volumes to me.
Back then my father worked night shifts and so playing the record at home in the middle of the day wasn't an option. Luckily for me, my grandparents lived down the street and my grandfather had a cool as fuck hi-fi/sound system in their lounge. The speakers in there were used to having Don Williams and Foster & Allan soothing the air around them so they were in for a real treat.
I remember my grandfather being in the room when I put the record on. His face a mask of utter confusion as he attempted to stop the record because he thought that either it or his much loved and well maintained hi-fi was faulty. For a brief moment I wasn't sure either, I mean I hadn't heard this music before so was hardly the expert. I convinced him that it was supposed to sound like that and that the garden probably needed more attention from him than Obituary's debut release did.
With the room to myself I spent the next few hours playing the record over and over again, getting lost in it's dark and looming atmospheres, recoiling with mouth-agape at the abrasive riffs of Allen West and Trevor Peres, cowering in the corner of the room at John Tardy's spewing vocals that covered me head to toe in their marauding horror, vaguely aware that some drums and probably a bass were in there too. This was what death metal sounded like and I fucking loved it.
Here in 2020, forty-four year old me listens to Slowly We Rot with a slightly more critical ear. I mean, now I have heard Cause of Death and so I know the debut isn't the best album the band ever made. I have also now heard probably every other death metal band out there (well probably not every death metal band) and have hundreds of releases littered around the place in various formats so I know more about the genre than thirteen year old me ever could have hoped to. But I know that I bought one of the greatest ever death metal albums from 1989, one that for me at least will have a timelessness associated with it for the introduction it gave me to the genre, without which most of the aforementioned hundreds of releases that I now own might not be here. Slowly We Rot is my gateway album into death metal and for the rest of my time on this shithole planet it will have my eternal gratitude.
Did I mention that FUCKING ALBUM ARTWORK???