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100 Best Heavy Metal Bands of the '80s

I have been an online writer for over six years. I am passionate about books, philosophy, music, and the music industry.

Metallica Live at The O2, London, England, 22 October 2017.

Metallica Live at The O2, London, England, 22 October 2017.

'80s Metal Bands

Heavy metal evolved greatly throughout the '80s. The blues and psychedelic rock formed the base for heavy metal in the '70s, but these genres fell out of favor as bands began incorporating more elements of punk rock, industrial, and prog into their sound.

While many bands paid homage to those metal gods of the '70s, they were not looking to be held back, so the genre diversified, paving the way for new subgenres. This led heavy metal to achieve considerable mainstream success in the '80s. Certain acts had incredible record sales. The decade is known for the release of some of metal's greatest debut albums.

While heavy metal has evolved a great deal since the '80s, it stays true to its classic roots. The list below showcases an epic number of '80s heavy metal bands from different subgenres. If you are a true fan of this genre, you will have a lot to say. Feel free to share your views and opinions in the comments section.

Top 10 Best Heavy Metal Bands of the '80s

  1. Metallica
  2. Iron Maiden
  3. Judas Priest
  4. Motorhead
  5. Black Sabbath
  6. Megadeth
  7. Slayer
  8. Anthrax
  9. Twisted Sister
  10. Quiet Riot

What Is Heavy Metal?

Heavy metal is a genre of rock music characterized by heavy distorted guitars, dense bass and drums, and loud vocals. Typically, heavy metal lineups are comprised of a drummer, bassist, vocalist, lead guitarist, and rhythm guitarist. However, certain metal subgenres also include keyboards. Heavily distorted guitar amplifiers produce a sound that delivers punch and grind.

While a variety of complex drumming techniques are used by metal drummers, the double bass drumming technique is the signature sound of this genre. While classic heavy metal incorporates clean singing techniques in a high register, a number of metal subgenres showcase singing techniques that include screams, shrieks, and growls.

Iron Maiden playing live

Iron Maiden playing live

Best Heavy Metal Bands of the '80s #11–20

11. Guns N’ Roses

12. Pantera

13. Dio

14. Van Halen

15. AC/DC

16. W.A.S.P.

17. Venom

18. Kiss

19. Accept

20. Sepultura

Thrash Metal in the '80s

Thrash metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal. It was the most successful metal subgenre of the ‘80s. Thrash was a movement that came into existence when bands started experimenting with aggressive fast tempos fused with low register guitar riffs.

The thrash sound influenced music throughout the decade. Complex guitar riffs and double bass drumming gave thrash its signature sound. The syncopated time changes and intense speed in many thrash songs became hugely popular with heavy metal audiences.

Death Metal in the '80s

Alongside thrash metal, death metal, another subgenre, rose to prominence in the '80s. This extreme form of music had a cult following in the underground music scene. Death growls, a vocal style used by vocalists in death metal, became excessively popular with the metal community.

Although not many death metal acts were able to find a firm foothold in the heavy metal domain, a few bands made a huge splash with global audiences. Towards the end of the decade, many death metal bands signed recording contracts with extreme music labels. The growing popularity of this form of music reached new heights in the '90s.

Judas Priest playing live

Judas Priest playing live

Best Heavy Metal Bands of the '80s #21–40

21. Queensryche

22. Manowar

23. Whitesnake

24. Anvil

25. Savatage

26. Helloween

27. Mercyful Fate

28. Testament

29. Scorpions

30. Celtic Frost

31. Aerosmith

32. Skid Row

33. Krokus

34. Def Leppard

35. Poison

36. Ratt

37. Europe

38. Diamond Head

39. Saxon

40. Raven

Glam Metal in the '80s

Glam metal, also referred to as hair metal or pop metal, was the defining subgenre of the '80s. A number of glam metal bands achieved significant success throughout the decade. It was their power ballads and acoustic rock ballads that gained them the most exposure.

MTV was a major reason for the success of glam metal, playing a number of now iconic music videos. This helped the genre gain commercial success around the globe. But, near the end of the decade, while all seemed to be going well, the grunge and alternative revolution of the '90s came along and led to the decline of hair metal. While this era faded away, a few bands remained. It remains a cherished heavy metal movement of the '80s.

Metal bands are known to have a sense of humor about themselves.

Metal bands are known to have a sense of humor about themselves.

Best Heavy Metal Bands of the '80s #41–60

41. White Zombie

42. Kix

43. Exodus

44. Metal Church

45. Dokken

46. Thin Lizzy

47. Kreator

48. Deep Purple

49. Loudness

50. Destruction

51. Motley Crue

52. UFO

53. Rock Goddess

54. Cinderella

55. Stryper

56. Exciter

57. Death Angel

58. Overkill

59. Uriah Heep

60. Tygers of Pan Tang

Speed Metal in the '80s

Although it was an extreme subgenre of heavy metal, speed metal had a more refined sound that emphasized melodic riff structures. Certain acts associated with the genre displayed virtuoso instrumental passages in that became all the rage with metal fans.

Unlike thrash metal, which employed harsh vocal textures, a number of speed metal bands were known for vocalists who had expressive high-register vocals. The NWOBHM scene had a huge influence on the early development of speed metal. Although this form of metal gained some popularity in the '80s, it remained more of an underground movement. Only a few bands achieved commercial success.

Anthrax live in concert

Anthrax live in concert

Best Heavy Metal Bands of the '80s # 61–80

61. Budgie

62. Warlock

63. Suicidal Tendencies

64. Pentagram

65. Voivod

66. Great White

67. Dirty Rotten Imbeciles

68. Riot

69. Tankard

70. Saint Vitus

71. Helix

72. Girlschool

73. Corrosion of Conformity

74. Dark Angel

75. Triumph

76. Fates Warning

77. Coroner

78. Rage

79. Carcass

80. TNT

Black Metal in the '80s

A number of thrash metal and death metal bands started experimenting with a variety of musical structures. This increased experimentation led to the formation of black metal. The first wave of black metal bands emerged in the '80s. They were known for incorporating paganism in their lyrics.

The pioneering bands that emerged across the U.S. and Europe had truly distinct musical styles. While the ideologies about Satanism and ethnic paganism expressed in black metal have sparked controversies, the genre developed through the independent music scene and went on to become one of the most popular extreme subgenres of heavy metal in the '90s, thanks to the Norwegian black metal scene.

Leather was a huge part of heavy metal fashion.

Leather was a huge part of heavy metal fashion.

Best Heavy Metal Bands of the '80s #81–100

81. Nuclear Assault

82. Virgin Steele

83. Onslaught

84. Running Wild

85. Grave Digger

86. Manilla Road

87. Liege Lord

88. Y&T

89. Bathory

90. Crimson Glory

91. Sodom

92. Possessed

93. Flotsam and Jetsam

94. Candlemass

95. Razor

96. Witchfinder General

97. Sabbat

98. King Diamond

99. Helstar

100. X Japan

Power Metal in the '80s

Power metal was one of the most popular heavy metal subgenres to emerge from Europe and the U.S. Its anthemic songs with lyrics pertaining to fantasy, dreamscapes, and wizardry became hugely popular with a wide genre of heavy metal audiences. The theatrical sound, fused with symphonic elements and emotive balladry, gave power metal a distinct sound. Unlike many other metal genres, power metal uses a clean vocal style, often sounding operatic.

A number of power metal vocalists are known for their flawless wide range, often singing in a high register. While staying rooted in traditional heavy metal, power metal bands encompassed melodic choruses and dramatic riff structures influenced by speed metal to create a powerful, fast tempo sound with dramatic harmonies. Although early power metal took shape in North America, the style evolved and became widespread in Europe.

Other Notable Heavy Metal Bands of the '80s

  • Cloven Hoof
  • Grim Reaper
  • Electric Sun
  • Anthem
  • Baron Rojo
  • Gamma
  • Atomkraft
  • Lizzy Borden
  • 44 Magnum
  • Holocaust
  • V8
  • Stormwitch
  • Wild Dogs
  • Leatherwolf
  • Blitzkrieg
  • Fist
  • Earthshaker
  • Angel Dust
  • Wrathchild
  • Heaven
  • Demon
  • Living Death
  • Savage
  • Icon
  • Tesla
  • Gillan
  • Iron Angel
  • Kat
  • Znowhite
  • Angel Witch
  • Battleaxe
  • Laaz Rockit
  • Steeler
  • Warrant
  • Cirith Ungol
  • Trespass
  • Deathrow
  • Sacred Rite
  • More
  • Killer
  • Frehley’s Comet
  • Picture
  • Dorsal Atlantica
  • Holy Moses
  • Armored Saint
  • Witchfynde
  • Hurricane
  • T.S.O.L.
  • Sound Barrier
  • Vendetta

Heavy Metal Fashion in the '80s

Heavy metal evolved into a subculture in the '80s. Metal fashion was a mixture of flamboyance and raw attitude. Visual imagery played a big role in the development of this subculture. A symbolic gesture of rebellion, angst and hate, long hair became a fashion statement for a generation of metal fans.

Classic heavy metal attire consisted of jeans (ripped, torn, or frayed), black t-shirts, denim jackets (with patches), leather jackets, skull rings, chains, boots, sneakers. A number of heavy metal musicians sported radically shaped musical instruments, which were often brightly colored. This enhanced the visual appeal of their live performances. On the more flamboyant side of things, Dyed and hairspray-teased hair, makeup, vests, accessories, and spandex trousers gave glam metal its unique look.

  • Agent Steel
  • Wrathchild America
  • Killer Dwarfs
  • Beowulf
  • Heavy Load
  • MSG
  • Trust
  • Girl
  • Mahogany Rush
  • King Kobra
  • Saint
  • Bronz
  • Discharge
  • Trouble
  • Leviticus
  • Starfighters
  • Kick Axe
  • Honeymoon Suite
  • Sorcery
  • Vinnie Vincent Invasion
  • Zebra
  • M.O.D.
  • Jaguar
  • XYZ
  • Stage Dolls
  • Tarantula
  • Carnivore
  • Rough Cutt
  • Bloodgood
  • Defiance
  • Nightwing
  • Ezo
  • Tytan
  • Sacrifice
  • Oz
  • Britny Fox
  • Toxik
  • Sortilege
  • White Sister
  • Chrome Molly
  • Tokyo Blade
  • Cryptic Slaughter
  • Savage Grace
  • Bow Wow
  • Malice
  • Exumer
  • Artillery
  • Necronomicon
  • Lillian Axe
  • Thor
  • Savage Grace
  • Korzus
  • Praying Mantis
  • Hanoi Rocks
  • Zpetrope
  • Trance
  • Nitro
  • Hirax
  • Dragonslayer
  • Spider
  • TSA
  • Mama’s Boys
  • Stratus
  • Powermad
  • Brighton Rock
  • Mortal Sin
  • Gravestone
  • Nightwing
  • Chateaux
  • Spinal Tap
  • Mekong Delta
  • Vulcain
  • Keel
  • Misfits
  • Samson
  • Moxy
  • Quartz
  • Urchin
  • Madam X
  • Faster Pussycat
  • Dedringer
  • Whiplash
  • Bulldozer
  • Heathen
  • Pagan Altar
  • Jameson Raid
  • Tank
  • White Spirit
  • Lion
  • Vadenberg
  • Cacophhony
  • Hollow Ground
  • Salem
  • London
  • Xentrix
  • Fastway
  • Tredegar
  • Autograph
  • The Accused
  • Crumbsuckers
  • Sacred Warrior
  • Black ‘N Blue
  • Paradox
  • Meliah Rage
  • Alkatrazz
  • Rose Tatoo
  • Turbo
  • E.F. Band
  • Skitzo
  • Rigor Mortis
  • Dead Brain Cells
  • Black Rose
  • Whitecross
  • Agnostic Front
  • Kingdom Come
  • Vicious Rumors
  • White Lion
  • Rogue Male
  • The Handsome Beasts
  • Kerber
  • Shy
  • Vanadium
  • McCoy
  • Barren Cross
  • Persian Risk
  • Nightmare
  • TKO
  • Cro-Mags
  • Rok Masina
  • Gogmagog
  • Bride
  • Mentors
  • Intruder
  • Treat
  • Hellhammer
  • Ethel the Frog
  • Shark Island
  • Vardis
  • Pretty Maids
  • Shout
  • Avenger
  • Satan
  • Ostrogoth
  • Elixir
  • White Tiger
  • Sea Hags
  • Bleak House
  • Stampede
  • White Wolf
  • Pet Hate

© 2020 Ansel Pereira