The 50 Best Albums Of 1989

Here are the 50 albums that changed the face of rock 30 years ago.

The 50 Best Albums Of 1989
Chris Krovatin, Ethan Fixell, Cat Jones

It's easy to picture the ’80s as a single unit of neon pink blazers and killer thrash shirts, but the truth is more complicated than one might think. Just as music from the first few years of the ’90s often feels ’80s as all hell, so too are the last years of the ’80s heavily coloured by the changing tides and styles of the oncoming decade. Which explains why 1989 was such a strange year musically: it was the final chunk of a decade with a huge cultural impact, whose true believers were beginning to realise that change was imminent.

But that's also why the music of 1989 is so damned good: it embodies a sense of transition, discomfort, and risk. The albums of ’89 were all about the move from polished edges to rough ones, from easy to challenging. And while that may have been hell on some musical genres (pop and glam rock would have a hard time understanding the angst-drenched ’90s),it was an extremely good year for punk, metal, and hardcore.

Here are the 50 best albums of 1989.

50. Mudhoney – Mudhoney

On Mudhoney’s self-titled album, you can hear alternative rock as we know it being born. Atonal punk rebellion is the order of the hour, but it’s bathed in languid classic rock attitude and doom metal fuzz, creating music that sounds as excited as it does bummed out. With their debut, the band established themselves as one of Seattle’s truest, making them a mainstay of the grassroots scene even as other bands blew up on the world stage.

49. Alice Cooper – Trash

’89 was right in the heart of Alice Cooper’s hair metal period, and the fruits of that labour came in the form of Trash. As iconic for its cover (Alice looking humbly down in a T-shirt depicting his own split face) as it is for its hit single (the explosive Poison, merging glam’s glossy twinkle with the Coop’s patented use of deadliness as metaphor), this record remains an immortal, if at times cheesy, highlight of a glittering career. Of course, those fans versed in the great showman’s work know it’s the excellent B-sides of this album (Spark In The Dark, Why Trust You, and This Maniac’s In Love With You) that make listeners feel truly not worthy.

48. Black Sabbath – Headless Cross

Let's not pretend that Headless Cross is the pinnacle of Sabbath's long and winding career, but it's certainly the best effort the band had put forth since 1981's Mob Rules (the last Black Sabbath album to feature Ronnie James Dio performing vocals). The record was the band's first for indie label I.R.S. Records, and was surprisingly well-received, given the perpetual state of flux the band found itself in throughout the ’80s (guitarist Tony Iommi being the only consistent member). It doesn't sound like Sabbath in its original form, but is a super-solid heavy metal record in its own right, and should be judged as such.

47. Slint – Tweez

If Spiderland is Slint's finely tuned masterpiece, Tweez was the mathy post-hardcore band's experimental training ground. Big Black vibes abound throughout this angular, loopy, often harsh-sounding work, thanks in part, of course, to (at the time) up-and-coming engineer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, The Breeders) overseeing the recording process. Tweez is a frantic and troubling record that's anything but an easy listen, yet groundbreaking for its use of melodic guitar passages amidst odd rhythms and incredibly abrasive tones.

46. Bob Mould – Workbook

Bob Mould is best known for his work in seminal hardcore-turned-alt.rock band Hüsker Dü, but shortly after their break-up, he released a solo album that was arguably even better than some latter-day Dü records. Songwriting and production are the keys to this classic, which, true to its name, Workbook, would provide a blueprint for artists like R.E.M., Nirvana, and Death Cab For Cutie to weave acoustic guitars with strings (notably, cello) long before it became commonplace. Start with the vital track See A Little Light and tell us you don’t feel something in your cold, cold heart.

45. DVC – Descendant Upheaval

Sometimes, even bands with terrible names make amazing, influential records. DVC is an acronym for Darth Vader’s Church, which is an immediate misstep for this Floridan death-thrashers. At the same time, the unhinged rage shown on their debut full-length matched that of many of the state’s peers. Meanwhile, their horrific lo-fi overtones also influenced the slowly developing sounds of black metal, both in the States and abroad. A killer underground gem by a band you’ve probably never even heard of.

44. Nomeansno – Wrong

Few bands are as underrated by the mainstream as Canadian punk rock outfit Nomeansno. Formed in 1979 by brothers Rob (bass) and John Wright (drums), their many albums meld disparate strands of jazz, noise, and hardcore punk over the course of their nearly 40-year career. It was fourth album, Wrong, that put them on the map, however. Released by Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label, the album brought together post-hardcore, punk, and metal into one aggressive package, long before such fusions were popularised. An unforgiving, hard-edged masterpiece.

43. Candlemass – Tales Of Creation

Though your average metal tourist knows Candlemass for their debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, it was on their subsequent albums that the band established themselves within the underground scene. Tales Of Creation sees Candlemass sounding more extreme and arcane than ever; the band’s guitars drenched in grinding distortion, while songs are peppered with eerie spoken-word sections foretelling ancient prophecies (or the like). The album was also the last to feature vocalist Messiah Marcolin for 15 years, making it both a landmark record for the band and a kickass addition to their discography.

38. Cows – Daddy Has A Tail

Filthy, sludgy, noisy and yet, downright catchy as hell, Cows' second album is a serrated slice of psychedelic punk rock history generally only appreciated by genre connoisseurs. Like a private basement show from an angry circus clown on a bad acid trip, the album is necessary listening for those who like art to make them feel uncomfortable. Still unconvinced? Founding bass player Kevin Rutmanis would go on to play in both Melvins and Tomahawk.

41. W.A.S.P. – The Headless Children

By ’89, W.A.S.P. had established themselves as more than just shock rockers with elaborate codpieces. The Headless Children was the band’s declaration of real darkness, stepping away from party animal hilarity and going all in on real world evils. Songs like The Heretic (The Lost Child), Thunderhead and War Cry sounded more like Metallica than Mötley Crüe (though the band ill-advisedly also dare to release a track named For Whom The Bell Tolls). Rather than reject their shift in focus, the world welcomed The Headless Children warmly, earning W.A.S.P. their highest chart position ever, as the record stayed in the Billboard 200 for 13 weeks.

40. Judge – Bringin’ It Down

Bringin’ It Down could also be called Takin’ It Back, given what it did for modern hardcore. While the songs on the album are basically the kind of crossover thrash that fellow New Yorkers like SOD and Nuclear Assault were doing in the late ’80s, Judge removed metal’s party-friendly elements and added a healthy dose of straight edge varsity hardcore-branding. As such, the album sounds like hardcore coming of age, having picked up the slashing guitar tone of thrash but returning to the punk ethos of acts like Black Flag. The result is a punishing listen that laid down the concrete upon which so many of today’s hardcore bands tread.

39. Aerosmith – Pump

Sure, 1987’s Permanent Vacation was where Aerosmith graduated from classic rock act to radio titans, but with Pump, the band sealed the deal with a kiss. The album’s two big singles, Love In An Elevator and Janie’s Got A Gun, elevated the band above their hair metal imitators by showing they could do both heartfelt commentary and raucous anthems better than anyone else.

38. Bolt Thrower – Realm Of Chaos: Slaves To Darkness

It was on their second album that British death metal steamroller Bolt Thrower truly began to establish their sound. Unlike their debut, ’88’s In Battle There Is No Law, Realm showed the Coventry quintet speeding things up and employing ample blast-beats, a stylistic move that would continue throughout their career, even as the band slowed down. It’s also the first of their albums featuring Warhammer 40k art on the cover, officially drawing in the diehard core of military-obsessed nerds who would forever champion their cause.

37. Annihilator – Alice In Hell

Canadian thrash act Annihilator were a little late to the game, and have existed in metal limbo since the ’80s, but in ’89, they released one of speed metal’s most loved albums. With its foil-chewing guitars, harsh gang vocals, isolated bass accents and harmonised guitar solos, Alice In Hell is where old-school thrash and King Diamond-esque histrionics combine. That unique mix of flavours made this record an underground gem that continues to be loved by purists to this day.

36. Cro-Mags – Best Wishes

After the release of their punchy, punker debut The Age Of Quarrel, Cro-Mags frontman John Joseph left and the whole band did a huge 180 and wrote a melodic crossover thrash album. Those expecting traditional NYHC might be disappointed by Best Wishes' moaned vocals and icy riffs, but fans of latter-day thrash and hardcore's weirder edges are definitely in luck. Tracks like Days Of Confusion and Down But Not Out still provide plenty of heavy chugs, and there's a Misfits-on-speed sort of quality to Harley Flanagan's vocals thereon. Maybe not the most classic hardcore album, but one that provides powerful insight into the band's development.

35. Soundgarden – Louder Than Love

That Louder Than Love is Soundgarden’s major label debut says as much about A&M’s foresight as it does the band’s raw talent. Unlike their later output, Louder Than Love is much more of a badass road-metal album than a traditional grunge release. Chris Cornell’s patented croon is far-off, with a mixture of wailing and bleating dominating instead. And yet the roots of the band’s eventual superstardom are audible on dynamic numbers like Big Dumb Sex and Power Trip, indicating that label reps heard the mainstream potential present in this balls-out effort.

34. Nuclear Assault - Handle With Care

Nuclear Assault just might be the most underrated thrash metal band of all time, especially beyond America's east coast. And their raucous third album, Handle With Care – fast, powerful, and uncompromisingly aggressive – is equally underrated. The quartet came up with fellow New Yorkers Anthrax, and share more than a few similarities in sound, but were already surpassing their counterparts by the late ’80s when it comes to quality of output – Handle With Care included.

33. The Cult – Sonic Temple

For a specific subset of rock fans – who found hair metal too shallow but thrash too extreme, goth too dreary but radio rock too lame – The Cult’s Sonic Temple was everything. The album’s mixture of highway rock riffs, moaned vocals, and a vague sense of desert-born witchcraft make for an undeniable mix. At the same time, the album was a throwback godsend for fans of classic rock like Led Zeppelin and the Stones, harkening back to the sexy power of the ’70s while keeping the ’80s’ sense of heaviness. It’s hard to hate Fire Woman at a roadside dive with a speed limit sign on the wall.

32. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Mother's Milk

Remember when the Chili Peppers were basically a funk-metal band? Neither do most people, but 1989’s Mother’s Milk is a reminder that before their ascent to alt.rock royalty, the boys from LA were in the same class as Faith No More. Make no mistake, their signature sound is still present on this one – Flea’s bass is all over the place, and Anthony Kiedis’ signature vocal moan is emerging amidst his Bobcat Goldthwait barks. But even their massive cover of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground has a nod to thrash at the end. An awesome stepping stone in a weird, storied career.

31. Voivod – Nothingface

Up until ’89, Voivod had experimented with touches of progressive metal. But it was with ’89’s Nothingface that the band dove in headfirst. Though the album opens with the uptempo The Unknown Knows, it immediately diverges into stranger, spacier territory. The acceptance and celebration of this move by fans of everyday thrash and technical extreme metal, was made apparent by the group’s cover of Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domine becoming one of their biggest hits. A strange album to become a metal landmark, but hey, we’ll take it.

30. Skid Row – Skid Row

What made Skid Row’s self-titled debut better than your average hair metal album was simple: it was fucking heavy. Sure, it featured the syrup-sweet ballad I Remember You on it, which took the world by storm. But tracks like Sweet Little Sister, Here I Am, and the massive battle cry of Youth Gone Wild were steely, squealy songs more akin to Rhoads-era Ozzy than Poison. Sebastian Bach’s sneering vocals also added a believably harsh edge to the songs that made them more believable than those of their peers. For hair metal fans worried by where the genre was going, this was a reminder of the heights it could still hit.

29. Autopsy – Severed Survival

When drummer Chris Reifert left Death, he decided to continue the band’s thrash-driven legacy. The fruits of his labour were Severed Survival, Autopsy’s debut album. But what made Autopsy their own beast (rather than just a second-hand continuation of Death) was the moments of dripping, melancholy horror on Severed Survival. Sure, Ridden With Disease and Stillborn are speedy, trundling death metal tracks, but Service For A Vacant Coffin and Impending Dread bring an eerie doom metal trudge to the table, that would help expand death metal’s horizons for decades to come.

28. Sick Of It All – Blood, Sweat And No Tears

While Aerosmith were performing Walk This Way with Run DMC, New York's Sick Of It All were featuring KRS One as a guest star on their debut album. With Blood, Sweat And No Tears, the band helped change the definition of New York hardcore as the world knew it. The band's whirlwind punk moments exist between alleyway walls of brick-hard breakdowns, with lyrical themes of respect, survival, and inflicting your own brand of justice throughout.

27. Kreator – Extreme Aggression

With their fourth studio album, German thrashers Kreator did their best to break through to the metal-loving masses, and to a certain extent, they did. The video for the track Betrayer was a big hit on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, introducing them to U.S. audiences on a larger scale than they’d ever seen before. At the same time, the grinding, tireless riffage of songs like Love Us Or Hate Us and Bringer Of Torture still set the band outside of the more palatable bands of the genre. Then again, that’s what makes the album so awesome. It’s catchy, but is utterly devoid of compromise.

26. Coroner – No More Color

Though they started as the most intrepid band of Celtic Frost roadies in the world, Coroner matured their icy thrash into something truly unique. No More Color sees the band in the throes of their most intricate creative period, playing chuggy proto-black metal that took things in funky, unusual directions. The vocals thereon certainly echo the band’s former bosses, but the intricate guitar work and audible bass acrobatics sound at times more akin to the likes of Living Colour than Hellhammer. Blackened funk thrash? It happened!

25. Pestilence – Consuming Impulse

Consuming Impulse is not only one of the best albums of 1989, it’s one of the best death metal albums of all-time. Fast, brutal, and lyrically horrifying, Pestilence's second record set a high bar for DM bands to rise above in the decade to follow by perfectly balancing aggressive, repulsive tone with memorable riffs. That guitarist (turned vocalist, in later years) Patrick Mameli would eventually become embroiled in accusations of racism is a huge bummer, but the fact remains that this album, as an independent work of art, will forever be a technical tour de force.

24. Terrorizer – World Downfall

Much like Repulsion’s Horrified, the debut album by Californian grindcore act Terrorizer was a one-off that turned into fertile ground for the young genre. For many fans, World Downfall is grindcore’s be-all and end-all, showcasing the roiling guitars, speedy rhythms, and politically-outraged apocalyptic themes that would later become the genre’s most important pillars. That the band fell apart when bassist David Vincent asked legendary drummer Pete Sandoval to join Morbid Angel only adds a certain poetic violence to this brutal whirlwind of an album.

23. Melvins – Ozma

There was a very specific void present for rock fans in ’89, and the Melvins were the perfect band to fill it with their second studio album. Ozma falls solidly between noise-rock, metal, hardcore, and grunge, without ever committing to one genre or another. Songs like At A Crawl, Let God Be Your Gardener, and Raise A Paw struck a chord with those fans who felt too loud, clumsy, and crazy for any of the well-defined scenes in rock, and inspired genre-blurring artists like White Zombie to step even further outside of rock’s norm. Only when these guys traded Seattle for the Bay Area could they create a record this unhinged.

22. Tad – God’s Balls

To be fair, TAD weren’t the Seattle band with the catchiest hooks or most marketable image; they certainly weren’t the first band to be sullied by the 'grunge' tag (a dubious honorific, which Sub Pop first applied to Green River and no self-respecting band in the region self-associated with at the time). However, with God’s Balls, TAD perhaps best encapsulated the essential elements of what would be viewed as 'the Seattle Sound': sludge-encrusted monster riffs, drunk and willfully dumb as hell, all played with punk abandon and noise-rock overkill. You have to work hard to live up to a title like this one and TAD's put in overtime.

21. Mötley Crüe – Dr. Feelgood

Wait, did Mötley Crüe write a thrash album? It certainly feels like they were trying to on Dr. Feelgood, the follow-up to 1987’s pop-tinged metal (or is that metal-tinged pop?) album Girls Girl Girls. The riffs and vocals on both the title track and the massive single Kickstart My Heart certainly feel more akin to those of Metallica and early Pantera than anything else. Even the cover, with its serpent-wrapped skull dagger, feels more metal than your average album. A selection of songs made all the more awesome by the band’s attempt to tread harder ground this time around.

20. Testament – Practice What You Preach

For Testament, Practice What You Preach was a make-or-break release. The band had established themselves as thrash power-players with ’87’s The Legacy and ’88’s The New Order, but on Practice, they showed that they could write the kind of technical, involved, and catchy thrash tunes that would put them in league with The Big Four. Between the title-track, Blessed In Contempt, Sins Of Omission, and the blistering Nightmare (Coming Back To You), the album is an example of how ’80s thrash could go above and beyond loud, fast, and pissed-off.

19. Overkill – The Years Of Decay

New Jersey’s Overkill were always an odd man out in the thrash scene. Too punk for some, too metal for others, too vulgar and confrontational for most, and that outsider status is perfectly captured on The Years Of Decay. On one hand, the album turns the band’s radioactive flying skull mascot into an ancient temple, and features sprawling numbers like Who Tends The Fire and the title-track. On the other, songs like Elimination, I Hate, and closer E.vil N.ever D.ies channels their spunky, no-fucks-given gutter-thrash vibe.

18. Sabbat – Dreamweaver

Sabbat's Dreamweaver is pretty high-minded for a thrash record. As a concept album based on the The Way Of Wyrd: Tales Of An Anglo-Saxon Sorcerer, the 1983 book by British psychologist Brian Bates, it appealed to a certain type of dragon-loving metal fan. But lyrics aside, the music on this crowning achievement of the Nottingham-based band was insanely technical and progressive for its time. Compared to the works of many contemporaries, it's no catchy, easy listen, but a rewarding one, complete with brilliant riffs and boundless energy.

17. Repulsion – Horrified

While bands like Possessed and Morbid Angel were laying the foundations of death metal, Michigan’s Repulsion were creating something very different: goregrind, a mixture of the UK’s speedy grindcore and Florida’s obsession with ultraviolence. The result is the band’s only studio album – a noisy, frantic DIY effort that sounds like it was recorded inside someone’s small intestine. But this agitated pace is also what gives Horrified its charm, and for a generation of kids uninterested in a lot of extreme metal’s technical obsession, the record became influential beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

16. Carcass – Symphonies Of Sickness

Gross! On their second full-length album, Carcass took the head-down goregrind of their debut and refined it into something meaner, but no less disgusting. Symphonies sees the boys from Liverpool adding doses of burly death metal to their music, which somehow makes their anatomical anthems sound even fleshier than before. Songs like Exhume To Consume give off a sense of arch menace, while blisterers like Slash Dementia maintain the band’s sense of spring-heeled punk mania. Sometimes, you need to trim a little fat to get to the glistening entrails within.

15. Gorilla Biscuits – Start Today

Gorilla Biscuits' Start Today not only defined east coast hardcore, its energetic, positive take on punk rock influenced hardcore on an international level. Bands from Comeback Kid to Turnstile owe everything to this trendsetting band and their definitive release, which includes empowering messages on classic tracks such as New Direction, Things We Say, and, of course, Start Today (Also worth noting: band alumni would go on to form two other massively important New York outfits, Quicksand and CIV).

14. Ministry – The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste

For Ministry, the game changed with the addition of something that industrial was lacking: speed. The Mind… showcases the band graduating even further away from their techno origins, with forntman Al Jourgensen inspired by breakneck thrash acts like Rigor Mortis and SOD to take the tempo up a notch. As such, songs like Thieves, Burning Inside, and So What blast forward with powerful stomping impact, and officially make industrial one of the most aggressive musical subgenres on earth. After this record, the band’s danceable past become a bloody smear on the highway.

13. Sodom – Agent Orange

Before Agent Orange, Sodom were a bit of an all-purpose extreme metal band, leading a movement that would eventually split into black and death metal. But Agent Orange is where they earned their true thrash stripes. The focus on the Vietnam War – a conflict that kids in 1989 could see reflected in their own harried relatives – gives the album an intense and scary power that typical metal satanism couldn’t touch. Meanwhile, the band’s experimentation with tempo, be it the speedier-than-thou punk of Ausgebomt or the head-down-horns-up chug of Magic Dragon, gave them a dynamic unusual in German thrash’s early years. A sometimes-overlooked gem of the ’80s.

12. Operation Ivy – Energy

In the late ’80s, punk had branched into either radio-friendly new wave, emotional alt.rock, and self-important hardcore. And yet here was the only studio album from a bunch of Berkley dudes making fun, danceable punk rock with heavy doses of ska, dub, and oi thrown in for good measure. The rest of the world had no idea that Operation Ivy would create the foundation on which the future of punk would be built, inspiring the pop-punk movement, the ska-punk revival, and countless hipster party-rock acts in the 2000s. To the world at large, theirs was a confusing combination. For every kid looking out from the edge of a half pipe, it meant the world.

11. King Diamond – Conspiracy

If you’re going to make spooky shred-metal about screaming in a haunted house, you might as well go all in. The sequel to the black metal forefather’s previous album Them, Conspiracy continues the story of King Diamond returning to the House Of Amon and communicating with the spectral ‘them’. What’s most exciting, though, is that His Majesty has officially gone full-bore on his gothic horror metal, immersing himself in ghosts, demons, and whispers of murder. Perhaps this total abandon is why, rather than use a painting for the album cover, the singer went with an image of his face, as if with Conspiracy, he’s finally revealing the true King.

10. Nirvana – Bleach

When your before-we-were-famous album goes platinum and is the highest-selling record its label has ever released, you know you’re on to something. Bleach might feature Nirvana in their musical infancy, but that rawness is what makes the band’s debut so special. There’s a lack of pressure on Kurt Cobain that gives listeners a more straightforward look into his heart; songs like About A Girl and Paper Cuts may warble and trudge respectively, but they display the band’s tendency to swing in bizarre, disillusioned directions. For fans who felt at home on the ornery outskirts of the grunge movement, this record scratched a very important itch.

9. Godflesh – Streetcleaner

For many fans, industrial music didn’t really exist before Streetcleaner. While other bands were making techno sound dark, Godflesh were merging electronic music with grinding, unholy metal to create a war-like sound unlike any other; a nihilistic bulldozer driving straight for all the false hope and hippy optimism of the previous decade. Tracks like Christbait Rising and Devastator are punishing and subliminal in their darkness, while the mordant humour of Life Is Easy and the album’s title-track added a twisted smirk to the whole affair. Fans still upset that drummer Justin Broadrick was no longer in Napalm Death quickly shut the fuck up upon hearing this one.

8. Obituary – Slowly We Rot

Death metal was still defining itself in the late ‘80s, but Obituary’s debut certainly helped solidify those blurred lines. The album’s slicing guitar tone, howled vocals, and nonstop drumming showed the world the foul, boil-covered heart of the burgeoning genre. And while the band isn’t going all in on the humid southern riffage that would later come to define them, they still manage to channel the late-’80s slime-punk aesthetic, albeit with a little more menace than Troma or The Ninja Turtles. Let’s ooze tonight.

7. Bad Religion – No Control

Hot on the heels of 1988’s Suffer, Bad Religion took their stylistic reimagining even further with No Control. Everything on this album is kicked up a notch. The guitars sound fuller, the rhythms are even speedier, the solos soar even harder, and the choruses are bigger and more introspective than anyone was ready for. As such, the band catapulted to public renown with songs like You, I Wanna Conquer The World, and the hilarious yet incredible You. So much of pop-punk’s melody and snottiness is owed to this mind-blowing album from one of the genre’s still-growing bands.

6. Sepultura – Beneath The Remains

Fuck yes, the perfect middle ground! Graduating beyond sheer Sodom worship, but not yet moving into the tribal grooves of their later years, Beneath The Remains is Sepultura at their thrashiest. The band’s serrated guitar tone and rabid pace on tracks like Stronger Than Hate and Mass Hypnosis is absolutely terrifying, while the confident stomp of Lobotomy and the humongous Inner Self show that the band aren't afraid to slow things down here and there. Imagine being immersed in the Bay Area sound, and getting this record from Brazil. What else can it be, other than the sign of an oncoming primitive future?

5. Pixies – Doolittle

Though their game-changing debut, Surfer Rosa, is an undeniable classic, the Pixies’ follow-up, Doolittle, is where the band truly hit its stride. From the unmistakable opening bassline of Debaser, to the savage animalism of Tame, to the catchy pop sensibility of Wave Of Mutilation, the first three tracks of Doolittle provide the perfect trifecta to kickstart the album that inspired an entire generation of weirdo alt.rock fans. There isn’t a bad track on the album, and to close with Gouge Away – a masterpiece covered by everyone from Papa Roach to Mogwai, even inspiring a band name – is the perfect way to bridge the ’80s into the ’90s.

4. Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness

While Morbid Angel eventually grew into a Lovecraftian beast that took death metal to new places, it’s their debut, Altars Of Madness, that shows the band at its rawest. For 10 crushing tracks, Altars thunders forth with the kind of enthusiastic horror-fueled death metal that feels like the genre distilled down to its purest form. At the same time, there’s a wildness to Morbid Angel’s sound present even on Altars – a squirming, writhing sense of derangement layered atop its more traditionally-spooky moments – that makes the band more than just a blastbeat factory. About as killer a death metal record as you can find before the genre’s explosion in the ’90s.

3. The Cure – Disintegration

Sometimes, incredible art can only come from disgust and confusion. Disintegration is heralded by many as The Cure’s greatest album, but its creation was heavily informed by Robert Smith’s disillusionment at the band’s newfound fame and his return to psychedelic drug use. As such, the gothic overtones of the record are cranked up to 11, and although songs like Pictures Of You, Lovesong, and Fascination Street have become classics, they still echo with brooding irritation and petulance. A powerful hunk of foreshadowing for the coming bummer of the ’90s.

2. Faith No More – The Real Thing

While Angel Dust is arguably Faith No More's masterpiece, The Real Thing put them on the map. Hit single Epic propelled the band to mainstream fame (who can forget the impactful video and its iconic flopping fish, only further immortalised by genius commentary from modern music critics Beavis And Butthead?), but this is a record that's packed with wall-to-wall bangers (From Out Of Nowhere, Falling To Pieces, the title-track…). A brilliant blend of heavy metal, funk, hip-hop and hard rock.

1. Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine

There are debuts, and there are debuts, and then there’s Pretty Hate Machine. In one album, Nine Inch Nails made a bold declaration, not only about their presence on the music scene, but also about the tenor of the fast-approaching ’90s. Its mixture of honest pain and throbbing, danceable industrial rock told the world that there were rough times ahead, but that they’d be incredibly fun to listen to, with choruses you’d hear in your sleep. For some, it wasn’t until Trent Reznor entered his water-damaged, drug-ravaged second act with The Downward Spiral that the band really seized them, but for so many listeners, this record – a poppy, furious, death knell of the sugar-coated ’80s – was the breath of incense-filled air they needed to leave the hobbled punk scene and immerse themselves in something darker. Bow down.

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