Fight Fire with Fire is an ongoing series on our site where we pit two classic genre albums against each other to definitively figure out which one is better. “But they’re both great!” you’ll say. Yes, these albums are the best of the best. But one is always better. Plus, we love these sorts of exercises, and also love watching you battle each other to the death in the comments, so how could this possibly end poorly?
This time around we’re going to look at a couple albums that were reaching high in 1983, a time when mainstream metal bands were indeed shooting for the sky, and creating some classic albums while doing so. You can hear the ambition in both of these albums: Ozzy Osbourne’s pure American metal classic Bark at the Moon and Accept’s molten-steel Euro masterwork Balls to the Wall. Sure, Accept’s classic didn’t hit North America until 1984, but work with me here.
Ozzy Osbourne – Bark at the Moon
We start with the album that is obviously more ingrained in the public consciousness, having sold more than 3 million copies in the US alone, Ozzy’s Bark at the Moon.
The album kicks off with the title track, which absolutely slays it, getting everything right that there possibly is to get right about mainstream ’80s metal, that mix of melody and ominous darkness, a bit of glory-ride victory, killer vocal lines, a dynamite guitar solo that is actually fun to listen to… this song is a perfect time-capsule period piece of why metal is great. “You’re No Different” is a good song but shows the album’s first signs of weakness with its laborious delivery: this tune does not need to be 5:49, but it’s kinda worth it for the great chorus and killer verse vocal delivery. Still, could be two minutes shorter, easily. “Now You See It (Now You Don’t)” has another chorus for the ages, as well as a hilariously anti-Sharon Osbourne lyric written by bassist Bob Daisley… as well as a couple extra minutes in the runtime that probably shouldn’t be there. Side A ends off with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel,” a daft enough stab at a party anthem that does what it needs to do. But at 5:23, I think you know what I’m going to say about the length.
“Centre of Eternity” kicks off side B, and it rules, man. What a killer song, Osbourne and crew capturing such a vibe here, while also laying down a memorable chorus. Love the verses, love the frantic energy, even love the intro. But it’s all about that chorus. “So Tired” is a ballad but it’s a killer ballad, Osbourne playing by the rules here and also delivering an anthem the chorus of which I have sung to myself many times to keep my sanity as a parent of three children. Deep cut “Slow Down” is next, and, yeah, I tend to forget this one exists, but that extremely ’80s chorus is always worth a nod or two, even if it’s trying a bit too hard. “Waiting for Darkness” is a cool, ominous closer with some great guitar work. The melodies on this one rule; it was a great way to end an album in 1983.
And that’s it, the album only containing eight songs, all the players totally killing it on their instruments, Ozzy in prime form behind the mic, band chemistry for miles, despite the ensuing soap opera that would take place behind the scenes. The album is really a riff-fest, Jake E. Lee absolutely killing it at every available opportunity, laying down an unbelievable amount of classic metal riffs here. But something is nagging at me, and it’s this feeling that the songs are great but not as legendary as we’d like to believe; the mythology surrounding this album is greater than the album actually is upon scrutiny, which breaks my heart just a little bit, but that’s how it goes sometimes, and I’ll be damned if this still isn’t a drop-dead classic album, anthems for miles, spirit of pure, classic metal all over the place, and riffs that embody the absolute essence of the best music of all time.
Accept – Balls to the Wall
Clearly this one doesn’t have the name recognition of its competitor, and it might seem like a stretch to make them face off against each other because of that, but I consider them to be kindred spirits, both albums excellent, almost innocent representations of classic heavy metal, distilled to as perfect a point as the artists could imagine while also aiming high for success.
Like Ozzy’s album, this one opens with the title track, and, like Ozzy’s, it’s an absolute classic, Accept hitting hard immediately with the cold-steel Euro metal vibes, the band finding some minor commercial success with this cut, even though the US crowd must have thought it was pretty dark stuff at the time. But how can anyone argue with those riffs, that vocal delivery, the songwriting skills, and that chorus? Impossible. This is one of the greatest metal songs of all time, right here.
“London Leatherboys” raised more than a few questions from the American heshers of ’83, but such was Accept’s bold nature, the band delivering a rebellious anthem here that rivals anything on Bark at the Moon for pure metallic riffing and huge choruses. “Fight It Back” continues with the big anthems, Accept getting concise, fast and furious with this song that should be mentioned with the same hushed tones as other metal classics. “Head Over Heels” is next, the band hitting a mid-tempo stride, letting the production wash all over the listener with the open spaces, the chorus to die for, the songwriting finesse.
“Losing More Than You’ve Ever Had” is an incredible piece of melodic mid-tempo metal, ending off the first half of this album with a perfect, moody—hate to say it again, but, sure—anthem. Total classic.
The second half starts off faster, with “Love Child” coming in, and, man, let’s just do this because this trio of tunes fucking kills it, with “Turn Me On” and “Losers and Winners” rounding it off, three ragers in a row here, with only “Turn Me On” threatening to wear out its welcome by about a minute or so.
“Guardian of the Night” is a master class in victorious guitar work, and “Winterdreams” ends it off with a weirdo Accept ballad of sorts, the band making the bold move to shut the album down on a quiet, somber note. Unsurprisingly, it works.
Like Bark, this album is just absolutely overflowing with perfect metal riffs, both albums testament to the mighty six-string and its ability to make the listener move mountains. Balls doesn’t have Jake E. Lee but it does have Wolf Hoffman, who here with Herman Frank lays down so many incredible riffs it almost overshadows Udo Dirkschneider’s always-incredible vocal performance.
Balls to the Wall is everything great about metal: it inspires, it gets the adrenaline flowing, sometimes it makes me chuckle a bit, and it always gets me ready to absolutely conquer the day. Sometimes, when I think really hard about it, I can’t think of an album better than this one. Which brings us to the winner…
On first glance, it’s easy to think which album is going to win here, but when you break it down, it becomes obvious: Balls to the Wall is easily the better record, Accept tapping into the essence of moody-yet-fun ’80s metal with zero filler and a perfect songwriting ability. The guitar work is untouchable, every chorus is unforgettable, the vibe completely unique but totally encapsulating everything great, moody and victorious about that most magical time for heavy metal.