The 1980s saw heavy metal go mainstream and reach a large audience worldwide. The genre was split into sub-genres like Glam Metal, Thrash Metal, Speed Metal, NWOBHM, Traditional Metal, and more. Regardless of which sub-genre you preferred, there was no doubt that heavy metal music absolutely ruled the 80s music scene. The metal scene during this time period was crowded with bands all vying for attention and radio/video airplay. We’ve put together a huge list of over 200 (241 to be exact) of the best hard rock and metal bands from the 80s that you need to check out and hopefully give a listen to.
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After becoming a rock n’ roll sensation from Australia, AC/DC was on track to take the world by storm. However, tragedy struck as Bon Scott was found dead after reportedly choking on his own vomit, while unconscious, from a long night of drinking. Each album release had propelled the band to higher charts, but Scott’s death was almost too much for the band to overcome. The band considered disbanding but decided to move forward with a new vocalist, Brian Johnson. In 1981 AC/DC released Back In Black with “Hell’s Bells” in tribute to the late Bon Scott with Johnson on vocals. It would prove to be one of the best selling albums in rock. The band continued right where they left off and were able to grow an incredible worldwide fan base.
This German metal band was highly overlooked in the U.S during their run of great albums in the 80s. The single “Balls To The Wall” brought them to a larger metal audience around the world, but starting with their self-titled album in 1979, they established themselves as a force to be reconned with. The classic lineup released I’m A Rebel (1980), Breaker (1981), Restless And Wild (1982), Balls To The Wall (1983), Metal Heart (1985), Russian Roulette (1986) and finally Eat The Heat in 1989 which featured American vocalist David Reece and featured a more mainstream sound. However, Udo Dirkschneider would return for several albums before departing for good. The band currently features ex-TT Quick vocalist Mark Tornillo who has been with the band since 2010.
After imploding from drugs and in-fighting between band members in the 70s, Aerosmith reunited in 1985 with the album “Done With Mirrors”. While it received an average rating from most critics, it was the start of a new era for the band which would be followed up by Permanent Vacation (1987), and Pump in 1989 which saw the band having some of their highest ranking albums and songs of their career. Aerosmith has hit the mainstream rock charts and was all over MTV and radio stations around the world. The band cemented their legacy with this comeback and are currently still together.
Notable for being the major-label debut of Swedish guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen, Alcatrazz featured former Rainbow vocalist Graham Bonnet and was an impressive debut release. Unfortunately, Yngwie left the band after the release of this album. How did the band follow up after losing Malmsteen? Simple. They brought in Steve Vai and helped launch his career even further. Alcatrazz Released The following albums in the 80s: No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll (1983), Disturbing the Peace (1985), Dangerous Games (1986)
The first part of the 80s was not kind to Alice Cooper who has said that he doesn’t even remember recording some of the songs on albums like “Flush The Fashion (1980), Special Forces (1981), Zipper Catches Skin (1982) and Dada (1983). After getting clean and sober Alice returned to his rightful place in rock with Constrictor (1986), Raise Your Fist And Yell (1987) and Trash in 1989. These albums saw Alice Cooper reaching a new generation with glam metal being in fashion at the time. With the aid of these three albums and airplay on MTV, Alice Cooper became a household name once again. Alice continues to this day and still commands a loyal following of fans.
Angel Witch is probably most notable for being a part of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement. With the release of albums Angel Witch (1980), Screamin’ ‘n’ Bleedin’ (1985), and Frontal Assault (1986), the names told you what kind of music it was. Their self-titled album is considered a classic album from the NWOBHM and still stands as one of the most notable metal albums of that scene. The band has returned with different lineups over the years, with a slightly more modern sound but recognizable none the less.
Attempting to hit on the sound of guitar slingers like Van Halen and George Lynch, Angelica went for a more glam sounding singer, similar to Mark Slaughter. The original vocalist was replaced by Rob Rock and Dennis Cameron had this to say about the band: “Angelica started as a vision that I had for an ideal band full of believer musicians”. The band hit the power ballad fans and those who like a skillful guitarist but never went much farther than that outside of the Christian Metal market.
After Loudness broke through as the first mainstream Japanese heavy metal band, many bands tried to follow their lead. One of the best Japanese bands to hit the scene was Anthem. The band still continues to release new albums, periodically. Bound To Break was the band’s biggest success in the United States, but failed to capture the album buyer’s attention at the same level as Loudness. Highly regarded in Japan, the band has a lengthy discography and deserved far more credit overseas than they received.
Anthrax was New York’s version of Thrash, often compared to West Coast bands like Metallica, Flotsam And Jetsam, Megadeth, and Death Angel. While the Bay Area bands of San Francisco had their sound, Anthrax had a more gritty, inner-city feel to it. While the band has had several singers over the years, the classic lineup featuring Joey Belladonna, Dan Spitz, Scott Ian, Frank Bello, and Charlie Benante is the most recognizable. Anthrax released Fistful Of Metal (1984), Armed & Dangerous (1985), Spreading The Disease (1985), Among The Living (1987), and State Of Euphoria in 1988. The classic lineup, minus Dan Spitz is currently touring and performing.
This Canadian metal band released Hard ‘n’ Heavy (1981), Metal on Metal (1982), Forged in Fire (1983), Strength of Steel (1987), and Pound for Pound (1988) in the 80s. Known for outrageous antics, including playing the guitar with a dildo and performing nude, Anvil had gotten great opening slots for other metal bands but failed to reach the same level themselves. Eventually, the band faded into almost obscurity, but the band made a huge comeback after a documentary about the band was released called Anvil!: The Story Of Anvil. Almost like the fictional band Spinal Tap, Anvil had suffered for their art and finally achieved the honor that they had deserved for so many years.
Armored Saint hit the scene as a gritty L.A. version of Judas Priest. The band was busy in the 80s releasing their self-titled EP (1983), March Of The Saint (1984), Delirious Nomad (1985), Raising Fear (1987), and finally with Saint Will Conquer in 1987. The band featured vocalist John Bush, who would later replace Joey Belladonna in Anthrax for many years. Armored Saint had some modest hits with songs like Can U Deliver and their cover version of Lynryd Skynrd’s Saturday Night Special. The band still has a large following of fans and continues to record and tour to this day.
The original lineup of Autograph got together in 1983. The band consisted of vocalist Steve Plunkett, guitarist Steve Lynch, Randy Rand on Bass, Keni Richards on Drums and Steve Isham on Keyboards. Known primarily for their biggest hit single “Turn Up The Radio”, Autograph released three major albums for RCA Records with this lineup including “Sign In Please”, “That’s The Stuff” and “Loud and Clear”. “Turn Up The Radio” was one of the last songs that the band had recorded for the “Sign In Please album. Apparently the band thought it was just okay and didn’t feel as strongly about it as some of the other songs on the album. Luck for them that the included it. It took the album to Gold record status and made it into the top 30 songs chart. The band went back into the studio and recorded the followup album “That’s The Stuff” in a rather quick fashion. While it didn’t sell as well as the first album, it came close to achieving the Gold album level as well.
Florida hard rock band AXE mixed heavy guitar with keyboards to create their sound. During the 80s they released Living on the Edge (1980), Offering (1982), and Nemesis in 1983. The band cracked the top 100 charts with the singles “Now Or Never” and “I Think You’ll Remember Tonight”. The band’s sound was much less heavy than their image on their album covers, which made them appear to be more of a heavy metal band.
Axel Rudi Pell
German guitar virtuoso started his career with the band Steeler, not to be confused with the American version featuring Ron Keel and Yngwie Malmsteen. Much like Malmsteen, Pell was regarded as one of the new guitar masters during the 80s. Pell released only one solo album during the 80s called Wild Obsession (1989), but his reputation from Steeler was enough to push his name onto many favorite metal guitarist lists. The band still performs today with an ever-changing lineup with Axel Rudi Pell as the main constant
Baby Tuckoo appeared as part of the second generation of the NWOBHM in 1982. While their recorded output is minimal with just two studio albums, First Born (1984) and Force Majeure (1986) they are still being recognized as a hidden gem by many metal fans around the world who missed them during their initial run in the 80s. Unfortunately, the name Baby Tuckoo doesn’t exactly have a heavy metal sound to it, which may have contributed to their downfall.
Babylon A.D. released their self-titled album in 1989, barely arriving in the 80s. Original members, Derek Davis vocalist/songwriter, guitarists, and music writers Dan De La Rosa and Ron Freschi, drummer Jamey Pacheco and bassist Robb Reid were all in childhood rival bands. They signed to Arista Records and made quite a splash with their debut. Primarily considered a glam or hair metal band, Babylon A.D. was talented and crafted great songs. The band continued to release several great albums with their latest release being “Revelation Highway in 2017.
After Jake E. Lee left or was fired from Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band, he built a bluesy rock band that stands up today as a true classic. The band featured vocalist Ray Gillen who along with Lee’s immaculate guitar skills propelled Badlands to be one of the most criminally underrated hard rock bands of the 80s. The band fused blues with classic rock and metal to create a unique sound. Badlands debuted in 1989 to rave reviews. They followed it up with the impressive Voodoo Highway and ultimately their final release after Gillen’s death Dusk. Eric Singer would later go on to be the longtime drummer in KISS following the death of Eric Carr.
Bang Tango was formed in L.A. in 1988. The original Bang Tango line up consisted of Joe Leste, Mark Knight, Kyle Kyle, Kyle Stevens, and Tigg Ketler. The band released their critically acclaimed debut album Psych Cafe in 1989 after signing with MCA records, which included the smash hit “Someone Like You”.
Banshee came from the Midwest part of the USA, in the Kansas City area. And while their image was right in line with the glam/hair metal scene at the time, musically the band had more a power metal sound. Race Against Time was Banshee’s debut full-length album, which was released on Atlantic Records in 1989 and was a great showcase for their sound which incorporated melody with power metal. The debut album was the only release the band released through Atlantic. The band is still around and has released several albums in recent years, albeit, with a more modern metal sound.
Barren Cross is a metal band that was formed in Los Angeles in 1983 by Two high school friends; Lead Guitarist Ray Parris and Drummer Steve Whitaker. Lead Singer Michael Drive (Lee) had an ad in a local paper looking for a guitarist! Steve then drove to Michael’s house, where he called Ray and had Michael sing on the phone! As soon as they met and played together, the chemistry instantly formed; and two weeks later Michael met Bassist Jim LaVerde; and the rest is history! After recording 6 songs for two demos during 1983 and 1984, “the fires had begun” to burn – to record their first album. The band came close to sounding like Iron Maiden at times and originally was a bit heavier than their contemporaries “Stryper”. . They had their biggest success with Atomic Arena which also saw the band get airplay on MTV.
Bitch went for shock value with songs about bondage and Sado-Masochism. Lead by singer Betsy, they offered a different approach than female lead bands like The Runaways, Heart, and Lita Ford. The band signed to Metal Blade Records and released the following albums in the 80s: Be My Slave (1983), The Bitch Is Back (1987) and Betsy( 1989). They were almost known more for their outlandish stage shows than their actual music, but they had a decent run with a different schtick than most.
Black N’ Blue
Black N’ Blue is one of those bands that you just simply have to scratch your head as to why they never hit the top. The band had top-notch talent and delivered four great albums for Geffen records. Guitarist Tommy Thayer would later go on to replace Ace Frehley in KISS. The demos that lead to their debut album was produced by none other than Don Dokken. Every song on this album was great and should have cemented the band as the next big thing. The band reached the pinnacle of their success with MTV airplay for the song “I’ll Be There For You”. The band still performs live and still release new albums, albeit without Tommy Thayer.
Ozzy Osbourne fronted Black Sabbath in what was known as the classic lineup. The band achieved legendary status during this time. After nine years of recording and touring with Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne was fired and replaced with Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. While no one wanted to follow up Osbourne in Black Sabbath, who are considered along with Led Zeppelin as the Godfathers and originators of heavy metal music, Dio was able to provide a second life to Black Sabbath with two studio albums, Heaven and Hell and The Mob Rules as well as the critically acclaimed “Live Evil” album. After Dio left to create his own solo band, Black Sabbath seemed to become a revolving door of singers and was never able to keep a cohesive band or image together for very long.
Black Sheep fronted by Willie Basse released their debut album “Trouble In The Streets” in 1985 on Enigma Records. The band is famous for having more than a few members that would go onto greater fame in other bands including Paul Gilbert (Racer X, Mr. Big), Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Randy Castillo (Ozzy Osbourne, Lita Ford, Motley Crue) and James Kottak (Kingdom Come, Scorpions). While the production seems a bit hollow on this album, it’s a rarity to even find it anywhere these days.
These guys helped get the Christian metal movement going and still work together today. They have a decent discography that’s definitely rooted in Bible scripture and always seemed more interested in witnessing to their audience than many other bands of the genre. The band was never about trying to get a record deal and hit the “big time.” The main focus of Bloodgood was always to reach the lost with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Veterans of both the heavy metal and Christian rock scenes, Bloodgood’s unique blend of music and message has amassed both a fan base that appreciates their music, as well as a body that loves God
Blue Murder was formed when guitarist John Sykes left Whitesnake and teamed up with Carmine Appice and Tony Franklin. The results were an incredible debut album. Still maintaining a similar sound to the material that he had recorded with Davide Coverdale for the best-seeling album “Whitesnake”, Blue Murder had a decent hit with their first single “Valley Of The Kings”. Sykes followed it up several years later with a second Blue Murder album called Nothin’ but Trouble in 1993. The musicianship is excellent and Sykes does an admirable job handling the vocals as well as guitar work.
Bon Jovi is one of the biggest successes of the 80s hard rock scene. The band started with the self-titled album, and early on they had a slightly heavier sound than they developed later on. The band knew exactly how to ride the line between pleasing the hard rockers and sugary ballads for radio airplay. The 80s saw the band release Bon Jovi (1984), 7800° Fahrenheit (1985), Slippery When Wet (1986), and New Jersey (1988) and they turned out to be the hardest that the band rocked. Lead by charismatic frontman Jon Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora, the band was hit-making machines throughout the 1980s. Of course, the band is still out there recording and performing but the duo of Bon Jovi and Sambora no longer exists.
German band Bonfire started out under the name Cacumen, later changing to Bonfire for the 1986 album “Don’t Touch the Light” which was followed up by Fireworks (1987) and Point Blank (1989). The band found modest success with their first two albums but were never quite able to break out big in the U.S. They are most often associated with the glam metal scene. The band still exists and has varied lineups throughout the years with guitarist Hans Ziller being the only constant member.
Barely squeaking in at the end of the 80s is Bonham. The band was formed by Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. The band earned a Gold record with their debut album “The Disregard Of Timekeeping”. The band was rounded out by John Smithson, Ian Hatton, and vocalist Daniel MacMaster. The band only released one more album together before Jason Bonham ended the group to pursue a solo career. Daniel MacMaster died in 2008 from a Group A streptococcal infection.
Bow Wow / Vow Wow
Bow Wow is one of the early Japanese metal bands. Starting in the late 70s the band released several albums. In the 80s they released Glorious Road (1980), Telephone (1980), Hard Dog (1981)
Asian Volcano (1982), and Warning from Stardust (1982). In 1984 the band changed their name to Vow Wow and released the albums Beat of Metal Motion (1984), Cyclone (1985), III (1986)
V (1987) and Vibe (1988). Kyoji Yamamoto is considered a guitar virtuoso and is known for his skillful style.
Starting out with a little heavier sound than most of the others, they switched their sound to appeal more to the hair metal crowd. Kinetic Faith was the beginning of a new era for Bride. Bride was ready to record another album with a new sound and a more technically proficient lineup. Kinetic Faith was to be recorded in a studio in Nashville called the Salt Mine. Kinetic Faith was a complete departure from the music heard on Bride’s first three albums. It was more Rock ‘n’ Roll sounding – with a twist. In the end, it was good enough to put Bride in the mainstream of Christian Music and to win them a DOVE Award for the song, Everybody Knows My Name. While they had some great metal albums, they changed their sound a little too often and ultimately never seemed to have a consistent sound.
These Canadian rockers recorded Young, Wild and Free (1986) and Take a Deep Breath (1988) during the 80s. They followed it up with one more studio album, Love Machine (1991). The album Young Wild and Free brought the singles “We Came to Rock” and “Can’t-Wait for the Night” which charted highly in Canada and eventually went Gold. Take a Deep Breath also garnered the band a Gold record in Canada. However, their success did not expand outside of Canada on a larger scale. The band still has devoted fans and they have reunited several times for charity events.
Britny Fox was formed from former Cinderella members Johnny Kelly and Tony Destra and bassist Billy Childs. Destra was killed in a car accident and was replaced by Johnny Dee. Vocalist Dizzy Dean Davidson sang on the debut album Britny Fox (1988) as well as the follow-up album “Boys In Heat” (1989). The debut album went Gold and earned the band many awards. Boys In Heat failed to be a commercial success and vocalist Dean left the band, later being replaced by Tommy Paris. The band released two more albums before eventually breaking up for good.
The debut album by the Bulletboys was released in 1988. It was produced by former Van Halen producer Ted Templeman. The band received comparisons to Van Halen by many who saw vocalist Marc Torien as the heir apparent to David Lee Roth. The album went Gold from the airplay of the single “Smooth Up In Ya”. The band received heavy rotation of the video on MTV as well. The original lineup did two more albums in the early 90s before splitting up. 2020 saw the Bulletboys original lineup reunite and they are recording material for a new album.
Cacophony only released two albums, Speed Metal Symphony (1987) and Go Off! (1988) but they were a showcase project for guitarists Marty Friedman and Jason Becker. Both albums were released on Shrapnel Records, known for guitar virtuosos. Those albums launched the careers of the then-unknown guitarists. Marty Friedman would later go on to join Megadeth and Becker would join David Lee Roth’s solo band. Jason Becker is now unable to play due to advanced ALS, but still writes music through the aid of a computer, that is performed by other musicians.
Cats In Boots
Another band to unfortunately release their debut album at the end of the glam/hair metal era was Cats In Boots. Vocalist Joel Ellis provided a gritty vocal style and the guitarist and bassist were from the Japanese metal band Seiki Matsu, now known as Seikima. The band’s sound was sleazy and brought to mind a more raw sound of bands like early Motley Crue, Vain, Faster Pussycat, and other sleaze bands. The album was released on EMI in 1989 and critics and fans both seemed to like it.
Chastain started as a project for Shrapnel records with the guitar wizardry of David t. Chastain and the vocals of Leather Leone. Chastain was already in the band CJSS in 1984 when Chastain began. Originally it was intended to be a side project with musicians playing in the studio only. But Chastain proved to be more commercially successful than CJSS was and ultimately began David T. Chastain’s main band. A showcase of excellent guitar skills mixed with gritty vocals made Chastain a powerhouse band. Chastain released Mystery of Illusion (1985), Ruler of the Wasteland (1986), The 7th of Never (1987), The Voice of the Cult (1988), and their most successful album came in 1990 with Those Who Dare. The band is still recording albums today.
Formed in 1982 by Tom Keifer and Eric Brittingham, Cinderella was one of the biggest bands of the ’80s rock and metal era. Following several lineup changes, the band solidified their members with Jeff Labar and Fred Coury. The band’s debut album “Night Songs” was an instant success with comparisons being made to Aerosmith and AC/DC. Cinderella released four critically-acclaimed studio albums, Night Songs (1986), Long Cold Winter (1988), Heartbreak Station (1990), and Still Climbing (1994).
Circus Of Power
Circus Of Power came onto the scene with their debut self-titled album in 1988. Visually and lyrically the band appealed to the biker scene with lead vocalist Alex Mitchell covered in tattoos. Coming from New York, the band had a street-tough attitude with music to match. Their debut album received high praise from critics with Mitchell’s voice drawing comparisons to that of the late Doors singer Jim Morrison. The band would record two more albums in the 90s with Vices (1990) and Magic & Madness (1993). The band reunited in 2017 for the album Four with a new album to be released in 2020.
CJSS is an acronym for the band members last names, which is Chastain, Jinkens, Skimmerhorn, and Sharp. The band was formed by guitarist David Chastain. They released two albums in the 80s with Praise The Loud (1986) and World Gone Mad (1986). Chastain’s side project simply called Chastain became more commercially successful and received most of the guitarists attention during the rest of the 80s. CJSS reformed in 200 for an album called Kings Of The World.
Notable for featuring former Keel guitarist Marc Ferrari. Cold Sweat was poised to achieve fame and fortune. Featuring a then-unknown vocalist, Rory Cathey, the band often brought comparisons to Dokken. With outstanding vocals and a guitar virtuoso, the comparison to Dokken was easy to see. Unfortunately, the band failed to reach the mainstream heavy metal and rock crowd in terms of taking the next step to the top. Break Out is currently out of print and is a sought after collector’s item by metal fans. Marc Ferrari has recently written a children’s book and Cathey now fronts the band “The Fifth”
Crimson Glory, whose classic line-up consisted of vocalist Midnight, guitarists Jon Drenning and Ben Jackson, bassist Jeff Lords, and drummer Dana Burnell. The band is considered to be one of the originals in the progressive metal movement, along with Queensrÿche, Dream Theater, Fates Warning. Visually the band was quite different, with the members wearing chrome masks. Crimson Glory released Crimson Glory (1986) and Transcendence (1988) and then followed up in the 90s with Strange and Beautiful (1991) and Astronomica (1999) which featured Wade Black on vocals before calling it a day as a band. Vocalist Midnight died in 2009 from a stomach aneurysm. While he never recorded an album with the band, current Queensryche vocalist Todd La Torre was with the band for a brief period.
Glam metal band, Cry Wolf released their self-titled album in 1989. They received a decent buzz among rock journalists and fans. The band released the album Crunch (1990) which would be their most successful release. The band was originally named Heroes, and the band consisted of Tim Hall (vocals), Steve McKnight (guitar), Phil Deckard (bass), John Freixas (drums), and JC Crampton (Keyboards). Vocalist Tim Hall has drawn comparisons with the vocal style of Stryper’s Michael Sweet.
The first half of the 80s saw The Cult as more of a gothic rock outfit with the albums Dreamtime (1984) and Love (1985) but the band switched gears in a big way when they released Electric (1987) and Sonic Temple (1989). Sounding closer to a bluesier AC/DC kind of rock than their previous albums proved to be commercially successful for the band. With Electric they were appealing to a whole new audience and with Sonic Temple they reached Gold and Platinum-selling levels, charting in the top 10 albums chart. The band continues to this day with the core of the band being vocalist Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy.
The D’Molls featured Desi Rexx on vocals, bassist Lizzy Valentine, guitarist S.S. Priest (Diamond Rexx), and Billy Dior on drums. They released their debut album in 1988 on Atlantic Records. The band got their video for “777” featured on MTV, but it did little to sell more copies of the album. The band would go on to release two more albums “Warped” (1990) and Beyond D’Valley Of D’Molls (1997).
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