The author is a metal fan with roots in the the early 1980s.
In season four of the show Stranger Things, lovable but misunderstood metalhead Eddie Munson rips through a version of Metallica’s 1986 classic Master of Puppets on his B.C. Rich Warlock. In the show, this got the attention of the evil bat-like things. In the real world, it got the attention of countless people who had never heard Metallica before.
It didn’t take long for the song to fly up the rankings on various song charts and even make an appearance on the Billboard Hot 100. Maybe that’s why you have come to this page.
Or, maybe you discovered Metallica through some other avenue. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is, you are here. If you have an interest in ‘80s-era metal, a universe of amazing music awaits your discovery.
There is only one Metallica. Back when they released Master of Puppets, they were arguably the most ferocious metal band on the planet, and to say there was any other band like them might be a bit of a stretch.
However, many great bands did their part to pave the way for a genre that became known as thrash metal, and you’ll learn about some of them in this article. I've picked out a handful of songs like Master of Puppets from some of my favorite bands of the era. I've also included a list of recommended listening for each band.
Your metal journey starts here.
1. Battery by Metallica
Album: Master of Puppets
We may as well start with more from the band that brought you here. Battery is another song from the album Master Puppets. Many fans regard it as the finest thrash record of all time, but as you can imagine there is plenty of debate in the metal community.
In my opinion, it is a good jumping-off point for people just getting into the metal. Battery is a solid example of the speed, brutal riffing, and musicianship that put thrash on the map. While Metallica would move away from that sound in the 1990s, ‘Puppets remains one of the quintessential albums that defined the genre.
More Songs by Metallica
- "Creeping Death"
- "For Whom the Bell Tolls"
- "Damage, Inc"
- "Disposable Heroes"
- "Dyers Eve"
2. Over the Wall by Testament
Read More From Spinditty
Album: The Legacy
You may have heard the term Big Four in relation to thrash metal. This refers to Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer, arguably the most popular of the '80s thrash bands.
It's a nice, neat label, but it doesn't really tell the whole story. There were a bunch of bands inspiring metal fans at the time, and some deserve mention alongside the Big Four.
Testament is one of them. Over the Wall and the other songs listed below are well worth your time as you explore the genre.
More Songs by Testament
- "Disciples of the Watch"
- "The Preacher"
- "Into the Pit"
- "First Strike Is Deadly"
- "Electric Crown"
3. Holy Wars by Megadeth
Album: Rust In Peace
Megadeth is driven by a man named Dave Mustaine. It is not hyperbole to call him one of the most important figures in the history of metal. Mustaine was once a member of Metallica. As the well-worn story goes, he was fired in the early '80s while on a trip to New York to record their first album.
On the long bus ride back to California, Mustaine was no doubt seeing red. He turned his fury into Megadeth, a band that would eventually challenge Metallica for the thrash crown.
Progressive and heavy with thoughtful lyrics, Holy Wars ... The Punishment Due is a brilliant song that encapsulates the Megadeth sound.
More Songs by Megadeth
- "Hanger 18"
- "Peace Sells"
- "Tornado of Souls"
- "In My Darkest Hour"
- "Skin O’ My Teeth"
4. War Ensemble by Slayer
Album: Seasons in the Abyss
Of all the bands in this article, Slayer is one where I had the toughest time choosing one song above all others. I went with 1990's War Ensemble because, like Master of Puppets, it is a song with so much energy. It just as easily could have any of the songs noted below or a dozen others.
Slayer was one of the heaviest bands of the '80s and got heavier and angrier into the '90s and early 2000s. They endured the tragic loss of guitarist Jeff Hanneman in 2013 with some help from Gary Holt of Exodus but disbanded in 2019.
More Songs By Slayer
- "Angel of Death"
- "Hell Awaits"
- "Raining Blood"
- "The Antichrist"
5. Impact Is Imminent by Exodus
Album: Impact is Imminent
There were many great Exodus songs in the ‘80s, but I looked to 1990’s Impact is Imminent for my recommendation here. This is one of my favorite guitar riffs of the era, from one of my favorite albums.
Exodus is another one of those bands that should get a little more recognition for the role they played to further the genre. Not only did they put out a bunch of great albums in the '80s and early '90s, but they came back hard a decade later with 2004’s Tempo of the Damned, and continue to put out new music today.
More Songs by Exodus
- "Fabulous Disaster"
- "Only Death Decides"
- "Toxic Waltz"
- "War Is My Shepherd"
- "Bonded by Blood"
5. Caught in a Mosh by Anthrax
Album: Among the Living
You might hear the thrash movement of the '80s referred to as the Bay Area thrash scene because so many of the bands worked out of the San Francisco region. Remember, Los Angeles was the glam metal mecca back then, and this new brand of sped-up heavy metal was a tough sell to crowds packing in to see Ratt and Motley Crue.
New York's Anthrax is one of the exceptions. These guys have always been on my shortlist of favorites, and guitarist Scott Ian was one of my biggest influences as a metal musician.
If "moshy" can be a word, Anthrax was by far the moshiest of the thrash bands. Chugging guitar riffs, a little humor here and there, and a touch of social awareness made them stand out from their west-coast cousins.
More Songs by Anthrax
- "Metal Thrashing Mad"
- "I Am the Law"
7. Beneath the Remains by Sepultura
Album: Beneath the Remains
Sepultura is a Brazilian band that cemented their place in metal history with two amazing albums, Beneath the Remains (1989) and Arise (1991). Formed by brothers Max (guitar and vocals) and Igor (drums) Cavalera, the classic lineup included Andreas Kisser on lead guitar and Paulo Jr. on bass.
The band’s sound shifted in the ‘90s, and the Cavalera brothers eventually departed, Max in 1996 and Igor in 2006. Sepultura continues on today in a very different form and, honestly, they are still pretty good.
However, for a short time in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, at least in my opinion they were in the upper tier of the best metal bands in the world.
More Songs by Sepultura
- "Mass Hypnosis"
- "Dead Embryonic Cells"
- "Inner Self"
Where Will You Go from Here?
I like Stranger Things well enough, but I love metal. In my opinion, anything that brings positive attention to the genre is a good thing.
But it is bittersweet. Why does it take a popular television show to make people take notice of such a powerful music genre? It is hard for me to understand why people accept some of the music of today while metal and guitar music is relegated, once again, to the background.
Today, Metallica is far more visible than most bands of the era. Many of these bands, despite their former prominence, are unknown to a new generation and forgotten by the old.
The thing is, metal is kind of like a weird shrub that refuses to die. People hack at it, disrespect it, misunderstand it, chop it down to a stump, and rest easy because they don't have to look at it anymore. But it still lives, just under the surface, and those who wish to dig can find it. It is only a matter of time until it grows again.
Maybe it will once again sprout into a mighty tree as it did in the ‘80s when Metallica and bands like them reigned. Maybe people like you, discovering metal for the first time, will spur the growth.
Good luck on your journey. I encourage you to seek new music, expand your horizons, and discover all the great bands of the past and present. Most of the bands discussed in the article are still active today in one form or another. And, there are new bands as well.
You just have to dig for them.