Welcome back! Welcome back to our second episode of our new feature NOISE UPON A TIME! Last time, we’ve featured a bunch of great albums from 1989. This time, we dial back the time machine 5 years and visit 1984 – it’s not only the title of George Orwell‘s kinda-fiction-turned-prophecy, it’s the year in which Indian prime minister Indira Ghandi was assassinated by her own guards, and a bunch of famous musicians gathered together as Band Aid to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas” – you decide what’s worse.
Typical for this feature, we will focus on music, in fact 4 great albums, which all came out 1984 (well, not really, but more on that later). Please tell us about your favorite albums in the comments, we are eager to check it out!
Metallica – Ride The Lightning
released July 24, 1984, by Megaforce
revisited by Landon Turlock
Thrash may or may not be the most essential subgenre of metal to emerge out of the ’80s. Then, as now, so many acts were simultaneously influencing each other and evolving that such blanket statements feel almost meaningless. Nonetheless, there certainly was a thrash metal band emerging rapidly at that time, bringing a great deal of metal acts along with them – Metallica. 1984’s Ride The Lightning might not be the best Metallica record, but I think it set the tone for much of the legendary band’s output throughout the rest of that decade before they reimagined their sound in the ’90s.
Like many ’90s kids, my introduction to Metallica was “Enter Sandman” and their 1991 self-titled album as a preteen. However, my older brother, seeking his footing in high school, became exposed to the heavier, earlier Metallica records of the ’80s. I remember him putting on Ride the Lightning for the first time and being some combination of scared and fascinated. I can confidently say that until that point, I had never heard anything as angry or as fast as opener “Fight Fire With Fire”. The acoustic introduction seemed like an homage to a more familiar sound from my Dad’s record collection – Randy Rhoads’ classical influences on Blizzard of Ozz. However, the aggressive guitars, hyperactive drums, and barking vocals that quickly followed were overstimulating, angry, and intriguing in ways I had never before imagined music being. It was that moment, I think, that started me on my path into all the extreme subgenres of metal that I love today. I spent much of my remaining preteen years diving into Metallica‘s discography before getting swept up into all the subgenres of metal I could find.
But before we get to where Metallica was in 1984, we have to look at what they did just a year earlier. 1983’s Kill ‘Em All melded punk’s speed and attitude with some of the technicality and melodicism of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). The result was raw, angry, and perhaps charmingly immature. Ride The Lightning, while still vitriolic, moved past punk party anthems and short, speedy songs into sprawling epics that referenced Ernest Hemingway and explored death. Hetfield’s voice feels much more controlled, Hammett’s lessons with Satriani paid off, and producer Flemming Rasmussen brought a focus, tightness, and attack to the band’s sound that was only hinted at a year before.
Much like how Ride The Lightning informed much of my metal taste that came after, it also was a template of sorts for much of Metallica‘s output in the ’80s. The acoustic-guitar-turns-extreme-thrash of “Fight Fire With Fire” was echoed in future openers “Battery” and (to some extent) “Blackened”. The title track as the second track also became a staple in releases to come, as well as having the fourth track be a ballad. Instrumental epics and even the number of tracks on the album all were choices first made on Ride The Lightning that were replicated later. Even lyrical themes had throughlines from album to album, such as the duplicity of religion, loss of control, and cosmic horror. In some ways, Ride The Lightning feels like a prototype that was refined and possibly mastered (pun intended) on their 1986 opus before being expanded upon with …And Justice For All.
While I don’t hold up Ride The Lightning as Metallica‘s best record, so much of what Master of Puppets (my favourite) is owes itself to the band’s sophomore release. In that way, I think Ride provided a foundation from which Metallica built themselves to become the biggest metal band of all time and shaping so much of the genre to come.
Yngwie Malmsteen – Rising Force
released November 10, 1984, by Polydor
revisited by Robert Miklos
The year is 1984. It’s barely spring yet. Metallica have yet to release their sophomore album, Iron Maiden are at their 4th, with Powerslave in the works. Steve Vai just debuted at the start of the year with Flex-Able. Celtic Frost, Atheist, Helloween, and Sepultura (among many others) were just freshly formed during this year. These are just a couple of examples to set the stage, but it’s all highly indicative of where things stood back then: metal was still pretty much in its infancy, with a boundless universe waiting to be uncovered by brave pioneers and the titans known as guitar virtuosos (and/or shredders) were still pretty much a matter of the future.
Come March 5th and Yngwie Malmsteen makes himself known via his debut, which is more than aptly titled Rising Force. That’s precisely how Malmsteen came across during his early years. A rising force. The world was barely ready for what he was offering, but said offering was nevertheless feverishly accepted with wide open arms. Rising Force was, on a musical level, pretty much what it implied, especially with its cover showcasing what is now an iconic staple, the cream-colored Stratocaster, held up high amidst blazing flames.
The record was pretty much the spark that ushered in the era of the guitar virtuoso as we know it, up to this day. While all these hallmarks have long since fallen out of fashion, shredding is now an integral part of metal, up to the point where if it’s slightly overused, or not in perfectly good taste, or hell, even used at all – it’s automatically labeled a cliché. I think that’s a monumental achievement for an album and few albums manage to hold such things in their resume, and even fewer boasting greater accomplishments. For that alone, it’s definitely worth the praise it got.
Admittedly, Malmsteen is far from being the most charming and modest of musicians, quite the contrary as the years passed, and unfortunately, his musical output started showing early marks of stagnation during the late ’90s and early ’00s with the first major mark of decline after 2005’s Unleash the Fury. The quality of his works suffered greatly due to a lack of acceptance of a peak being passed (I assume), as well as God only knows whatever other reasons. As a musician it feels like now, he’s barely even a husk of the glorious beacon he once was.
Alright, that’s a little gloomy, but I think it’s worth mentioning, even though I will always see him as that young Swedish guitar legend who changed the face of this segment of music forever. That mostly has to do with how it all went down for me. I discovered Malmsteen’s music when I was something to the tune of 11 or 12, I can’t precisely recall. You know how it is, it’s still an impressionable age, especially with regards to art. I do still vividly remember hearing “Black Star” for the first time, though.
It was just something else, unlike anything I’d ever heard up to that point. As if that discovery wasn’t mind-blowing enough, I found out that it was about twenty years old at the time, which to my awareness and perception felt like an absolute eternity ago, something truly ancient. It was unbelievable how fresh and smooth it sounded. It was like a door being opened to some magical realm where wild fantasies were a reality and I dived right in. Never mind that the main motif/lick in the song stuck with me for years to come. But the blazing guitar lines, those were the ones that really made it all stick. I was blissfully unaware of the possibility of guitars sounding like that.
Further unpacking the contents of Rising Force, I was also awe-struck by “Far Beyond the Sun”, which, at the time, was so aptly titled that I could never imagine a better title. I was riding tides of scales and arpeggios on Malmsteen’s Strat all across the solar system and far beyond the sun into the great unknown. It was a maximalist adventure packed in a pouch. I was the superhero of my own fairytale. I was young and undying, basking in an unparalleled glory. While my peers were out playing with toys and riding their bikes in the neighborhood, I was among the stars, and I could barely wait to get back to tell them how amazing it was.
To tie into my remarks about “Black Star” and “Far Beyond the Sun”, they have stood the test of time, becoming Malmsteen’s most successful songs, making it to most if not all of his concert sets, with obvious waves of praise behind them. Malmsteen did also mention in an interview for Guitar World in 2008 that he’ll probably play “Far Beyond the Sun” and “Black Star” until the day he dies. I guess that on some level, we’re on the same page.
While I was never really impressed with “Now Your Ships are Burned” and “Evil Eye” (even though “Evil Eye” is based on Johann Krieger’s “Bourree”), I was however absolutely stricken with “Icarus’ Dream Suite Op. 4”. A good part of my musical upbringing up to this point in time was comprised of the top hits of the mainstream classical composers. I was familiar with Vivaldi, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Paganini, and so on. I was also quite fond of certain pieces of theirs. Obviously, I had nothing on Malmsteen, who was simply obsessed with them – especially with Bach. For the more musically savvy, it’s immediately obvious when listening to his guitar tracks. He embodies that style of composition down to a fault.
So, in that very breath, it only made sense that I was innately drawn to “Icarus’ Dream Suite Op. 4” like a moth to a flame. This made even more sense when I found out that “Icarus’ Dream Suite Op. 4” is adapted from/based on “Adagio in G minor for strings and organ”, which is a composition that’s commonly attributed to Tomaso Albinoni that’s actually arranged/composed by Remo Giazotto, based on a fragment of a manuscript written by Albinoni.
I of course, held similar feelings for “As Above, So Below” as for the aforementioned third and fourth tracks, but retained quite a fascination with “Little Savage” and an even greater one for “Farewell”, which kind of ‘taunts’ us with “Black Star”s motif. I think it’s a lovely touch, closing the record with the very thing that set it off.
Statistically, I guess, Rising Force isn’t exactly the one I hold with the most favorites, but in terms of the little from it that’s close to my heart, it’s one of the most important albums from my musical past. For the amazing adventures I had while exploring it, and for the other adventures it sent me on, as well as journeys of musical discovery into far, never before seen realms, it was also the second major milestone I had as a music listener, so I will always cherish it.
The Durutti Column – Without Mercy
released October, 1984, by Factory Records
revisited by Dominik Böhmer
If I had a Euro for every time the album I loved most from a band was the exact one the band themselves had all but disowned, I’d have two Euros, which isn’t much but it’s crazy that it happened twice. One of those cases is Swans, the other the subject of my little treatise today: The Durutti Column. Their album Without Mercy, to be exact. I vaguely remember stumbling across this group, formed by legendary guitarist Vini Reilly, after Liz Harris aka Grouper had mentioned an album of theirs in a list of recent record purchases in an interview somewhere on the internet. Smitten with their largely instrumental take on what was à la mode back in the early ‘80s – post-punk and dream pop, with hints at ambient music – I slyly wormed my way through their discography, only to be stopped in my tracks by Without Mercy.
Originally consisting of two longtracks, “Without Mercy 1 & 2” (which have since been broken up into more bite-sized tracks and supplemented with excerpts and bonus tracks over various reissues), Without Mercy still carries those melancholic tinges of dream pop and certain more angular features of post-punk, but as a whole, it’s become a fish that can’t rightfully be contained by those trivial ponds. Hiding beneath Henri Matisse’s post-impressionist painting Trivaux Pond is an œuvre that anticipates the same kind of post-rock that would later make Talk Talk into a sacred touchstone for many a musician to come. This isn’t rock music per se; it’s a kind of minimal chamber music spliced with elements of rock music. While these two sides only seem to work together à contrecœur at first glance, there’s a wealth of beauty and reason to it.
Expanding the core duo of Reilly and percussionist Bruce Mitchell with the inclusion of different instrumentalists, including (but not limited to) Blaine Leslie Reininger of Tuxedomoon fame on violin and viola, Tim Kellett on trumpet, and Maunagh Fleming on cor anglais and oboe, The Durutti Column has become a different beast altogether for the recording of what I consider to be their masterpiece. Only the occasional drum machine beat does make apparent the time in which Without Mercy has been conceived; the rest of the music is truly timeless, at least to my ears. Reilly’s gentle but supple playing works beautifully alongside the classical accompaniment. It’s gorgeous and innovative – like I said, it effectively presages certain movements within the alternative music scene a good half decade before they were to be adopted by other, perhaps more household names.
That Without Mercy should be disowned by its creators later on – tant pis. That it should be overshadowed by other, similar works that followed in its wake – je m’en fous. But that it should be forgotten by the wider public – quel dommage! This shall not stand. I genuinely, wholeheartedly believe that this is an album that should, ideally, be much more warmly appreciated than it is, because even if we were to leave aside its experimental nature, it’s an incredible well-put-together piece of music that gracefully stands the test of time. Voilà tout. The Durutti Column is a legendary band, and Without Mercy their untouchable chef d’œuvre, no matter what Reilly himself thinks of the matter.
Manilla Road – Open The Gates
recorded 1984, released April 28, 1985, by Black Dragon
revisited by Jake Walters
Disclaimer: There was a bit of a confusion going on here – this album was technically released 1985, but recorded in 1984. We’ve decided to make an exception and include it here anyways.
Manilla Road. This is a band that often fails to get their proper mention when great heavy metal bands are mentioned. Hopefully in some small way, articles like this will help to change that. First, a little about the band: they formed in 1977 in Witchita, Kansas, USA, and released around 17 full-length albums until the band ended in 2018 when founder Mark Shelton passed away. Their consistent output, maverick mentality, and incredible songwriting chops in many ways made them a band’s band. With a style of heavy metal that ranged from thrash-leaning power metal to doomy occult ballads, they rarely broke new ground when it came to topics and themes, but their hard rock roots and Shelton’s signature voice made their music a joyous surprise, album after album, song after song.
Open The Gates, Manilla Road’s 1985 LP, features some of their most grand songs and is my personal favorite, perhaps in a tie with the 1983’s Crystal Logic. Open The Gates, however, finds the band a little more sure of themselves and dabbling with a few new ideas all while keeping the same charm and charisma that makes classic heavy metal a thing of beauty, at least to those that love it. The opening track “Metalström” eases into the mood with Shelton’s vocals beginning near the bottom of his register until it slowly slings into his signature howl. His voice makes me giddy, not because he can hit a note like no other (he does just fine in that regard), but even at this younger age, he sounds like an aged wizard or necromancer rallying minions to march to their doom. It’s something that many metal vocalists strive to do, but Shelton is able to do this with ease. This same sort of progression is present in “Astronomica”, and it’s done so smoothly that it’s hardly noticeable, but repeated listens continue to reveal just how adept he was at taking the listener along for the ride.
When it comes to lyrical content, as I said earlier, the usual fodder for heavy metal is what most often ends up surfacing. Bards, prophecy, stars, swords, and the lot are where the themes dwell, but the intersection of these ideas and the musical identity of the band create the perfect thematic match. The shredding guitar solos of “Weavers of the Web” along with the galloping riffs of “Heavy Metal to the World” feels like a match made in heaven. While the latter seems a bit out of step with the rest of the album, I do love the inclusion of a straight-up thrash song on this album simply because it kicks off the B-side with a kick in the ass and a reminder that this band could play! The quick pivot back to the traditional heavy metal sound with some doomy leanings on “The Fires of Mars” is one of my favorites on Open The Gates. This song is incredible: frenetic drum fills, Shelton’s moansome howl, lurching riffs, and a cool-ass song title make this an all-time metal track for me. This track is effortlessly cool, and while many bands at the time and even now aspire to this try of sound, Manilla Road were the masters of this style. This track, hell the whole album, is the standard by which all others should be judged.
Open The Gates closes with one of the greatest heavy metal tracks of this year and I feel that closing with it would be the best thing for this little retro review. “Witches Brew” should be a staple on any playlist focused on this era, Halloween, or just for grins and giggles. This track feels truly sinister with chord progressions and tempo transitions and even some harmonies that lock in the tingling atmosphere. It’s a sprawling track that takes a page out of Candlemass’ playbook by being playfully evil while still having hooks and memorable melodies all over the place. If you’re looking for a great track to add to your playlist this autumn, be sure to squeeze this one on there, your friends will think you cool and hip and whatnot.
Regardless of which version of this record you listen to, the original or the 2015 remaster, the tones hit just right. The crisp pop of the snare, the doubling bass riffs, and those impressive solos are all very much a product of 1985, but they also have so much character and charm in the hands of Manilla Road. I hope that I have managed to convince you to check out this band, and while Metallica and Mercyful Fate had incredible albums in 1984, among many other metal albums of note, I think the more ears that catch the wiggly air created by Manilla Road the better. If you find yourself charmed by this band, jump into their other albums like Crystal Logic and The Deluge, you won’t leave hungry.