15 Under-Appreciated Classics Of 80’s American Heavy Metal
This feature is here to highlight just 15 (there are, of course, far more) 80’s American heavy metal classics which we feel deserve far more love….
Griffin – Flight Of The Griffin (1984)
Oddly signed to Shrapnel Records (who were renowned for shred as opposed to traditional heavy metal sounds), California’s Griffin were a rough, tough, swords and sorcery act that ably mimicked the pioneers of early 80’s metal.
Hardly original, Griffin were at least 100% dedicated to delivering authentic metal – replete with all manner of mythical beasties and heavy metal thunder – and were convincingly raucous. This was big-balled metal led by frontman William Rodrick McKay, who could shriek like the best of ’em and tracks such as “Heavy Metal Attack”, “Creeper” (a song heavily indebted to early Iron Maiden) and “Fire In The Sky” are indisputable winners, let down by a sub-standard production job perhaps, but winners nonetheless!
Overall, this one holds up rather well…..GRIFFIN, take flight!
Cirith Ungol – King Of the Dead (1984)
Everything about Cirith Ungol screamed of fantasy/power metal – from the Tolkien inspired name to their worship of old Sword and Sorcery/Conan books – however their sound, particularly on King Of The Dead, had more than a smidgen of doom metal to it, alongside some distinct 70’s prog elements.
All in all, the perfect combination for a little mythical pillaging….80’s metal style!
The likes of “Atom Smasher” – with it’s almost NWOBHM style riffing – and the doomy “Black Machine” and “Finger Of Scorn” are amongst the best tracks on offer but the whole album delivers myth metal on a suitably sumptuous scale.
NOTE: Cirith Ungol’s long-awaited comeback album, Forever Black, is due for release on 24th April 2020 via Metal Blade Records.
Fates Warning – The Spectre Within (1985)
Fates Warning’s second album was terminally unfashionable and yet its duelling guitars – with more than a few echoes of Iron Maiden – and layered vocals somehow took a disparate sound and made it work…..and no more so than on the outstanding “The Apparition”. John Arch’s banshee wail may be an acquired taste but there’s no denying the quality of the riffs, leads and the epic nature of this semi-progressive, heavy metal prize.
The band would improve immeasurably on their next album, Awaken The Guardian, but The Spectre Within is a collection strong enough not to be dismissed as a mere curio.
Fortress – Fortress (1985)
With more than a little glam sneaking into their sound, Fortress stayed just on the right side of the metal fence with 1985’s self-titled debut album.
Like a rough and ready Ratt, Fortress had their own “metal meltdown” laced with big ballads, AC/DC-esque stomp and swagger and no-end of unpolished (which is a good thing) big-balled preening.
Big tunes, high on sleaze, sex and sweat; fans of Dokken, Ratt, Motley Crue, Priest (“She Gives It All” is a cracking slab of melodic Priest worship!) and the aforementioned AC/DC need to rescue this unsung gem from the 80’s gutter of forgotten American heavy metal!
Manilla Road – Open The Gates (1985)
With Open The Gates, cult favourites Manilla Road recorded their heaviest, most focused album to date. Taking their cues predominantly from thrash and the NWOBHM, their epic brand of heavy metal marched on from 1983’s Crystal Logic into ever more muscular territory.
The fantastical and the epic were embraced with no sign of cliche and it was this commitment to pure heavy metal that propelled Open The Gates along at breakneck speed.
Highly underrated, Manilla Road and this classic album deserve to be household names and why they fail to receive the mainstream respect they fully deserve is beyond comprehension!
Savage Grace – Master Of Disguise (1985)
Savage Grace are one of those bands that get a bum deal, acknowledged as highly influential by their peers, yet left to rot by the record-buying public. A situation that is grossly unfair and one listen to Master Of Disguise should explain why.
If lightning-fast speed/heavy/power metal tickles your fancy this will leave you practically giddy and fans of Helloween, Agent Steel and Exciter should consider Master Of Disguise a must-own album.
Master Of Disguise is accomplished NWOBHM-inspired-thrash that should have been massive, make amends for your ambivalence and grab a copy.…NOW!
Seduce – Seduce (1985)
Highly melodic, Seduce seductively seduced (too much?) with a heady mix of Sunset Strip glam and American power metal muscle….and hairspray, obviously!
Forming in Detroit in the early 80’s, these Motor City mavericks specialised in ballsy heavy metal while maintaining just enough of a commercial sheen to appeal to the masses. Sadly though, things didn’t quite go to plan!
If you haven’t heard of them – and only true 80’s metal aficionados probably have – then the fact that Seduce didn’t climb metal’s heady heights will comes as no surprise but one listen to Seduce’s self titled debut will have you questioning why!
These guys had the chops to make it big and Seduce remains a consistently exciting and energetic 80’s American heavy metal album from a decade that churned out albums of this quality at a frightening rate.
Crimson Glory – Crimson Glory (1986)
Few bands could rival the metal perfection engineered by Crimson Glory on this, their debut album, and its equally accomplished follow up Transcendence. Bombastic, heavily charismatic and enlivened by the outstanding vocals of frontman Midnight….Crimson Glory had it all!
Masterful musicianship and a theatricality that left even Queensrÿche flailing, the likes of “Azrael” remain mind blowing; a true classic of 80’s American heavy metal overflowing with enough ideas and perfect riffs to fill an entire album.
A band that should have experienced the success of the Maiden’s and Priest’s of this world, Crimson Glory’s footnote standing in the annals of 80’s American heavy metal history amounts to nothing short of a disgrace.
Heir Apparent – Graceful Inheritence (1986)
Heir Apparent’s debut album may have been virtually ignored by their native Americans but Europe lapped it up, drawn in by a majestic sound – not attributable to the mix which is uniformly terrible, it has to be said – which recalled the early sounds of Fates Warning, Queensrÿche and the NWOBHM.
Historically, this underground treasure of 80’s American heavy metal has much to offer.
Ahead of its time and revered amongst aficionados, its humble beginnings (self funded and without label help) are writ large but the songwriting nous and accomplished musicianship on tracks such as the instrumental “R.I.P (Live)” and the delicately immersive “Keeper Of The Reign” remain obvious to hear.
Fifth Angel – Fifth Angel (1986)
Fifth Angel were the American power/heavy metal band who had it all yet sadly remained virtually unnoticed by the majority of metal fans. Neither hair metal nor thrash metal, Fifth Angel were simply an accessible heavy metal band in the purist terms; having more in common with the likes of Dio than the prevailing trends of the day.
With their self-titled album, their clean and catchy sound should have seen them break into the mainstream and while pop-metal would (sometimes) be a fair description, the hard-hitting anthemic likes of “In The Fallout” and “Call Out The Warning” distanced them far from the glam-metal shenanigans of Poison, Cinderella & Warrant etc.
Fans of the heavier moments of Ratt, Skid Row and Quiet Riot should invest in Fifth Angel (if you haven’t already) as these guys were a seriously pristine act with a quality debut album to back up the superlatives!
Angel Of Mercy – The Avatar (1987)
Some 33 years after its ill-fated release, The Avatar still stands tall as a true document of epic metal, a mesmerising blend of magic and high drama, of mysticism and glory and sorrow and triumph. With influences ranging from KISS to Rush, Judas Priest to Oz and Black Sabbath to Led Zeppelin, Angel Of Mercy crafted a highly melodic – yet highly mysterious – sound which could be compared to early Manilla Road and demo-era Anvil Chorus.
At heart, The Avatar is a brilliant example of raw talent and unbridled ambition coalescing into a wild and weird document of glorious times, never to be replicated again.
With a real NWOBHM vibe, the tracks on The Avatar prove to be consistently varied, with enough melody, shred and metallic might (along with the occasional feral scream) to satiate the most discerning metal fan and while The Avatar will always remain a cult curio, Angel Of Mercy were undoubtedly a highly melodic band of skilled musicians.
Tyrant – Too Late To Pray (1987)
With a lot (A LOT!) of bands adopting the moniker of Tyrant, you can be forgiven for passing these guys by. However, this is one tyrant you shouldn’t mind bowing down to as these Californian heavy metallers released a monster of an album in 1987….and Too Late To Pray was its name!
Epic in every conceivable way, Too Late To Pray remains a colossus of underground 80’s American heavy metal. So, so much heavier than the majority of bands found on this list, Tyrant were the antithesis of glam and instead took their inspiration from Venom, Witchfinder General (there’s a sprinkling of doom scattered throughout) and the bombast of classic Judas Priest.
Firmly rooted in the sounds of the most aggressive NWOBHM and the filthiest speed metal the 80’s had to offer, Tyrant delivered the purist heavy metal madness imaginable and they should have been huge!
NOTE: Tyrant’s long-awaited comeback album, Hereafter, is due for release on 15th May 2020 via Shadow Kingdom.
Riot – Thundersteel (1988)
Trust Riot to deliver a balls-to-the wall metal album in an era dominated by thrash. And, trust Riot to outshine practically all those thrash albums with an album that bled molten-hot metal like no other!
If Riot were attempting to outshine Judas Priest on Thundersteel then they succeeded. There are times – particularly on the title track and the ridiculously brilliant “Fight Or Fall” – when you’d be forgiven for thinking that Thundersteel was on repeat play when Priest were recording Painkiller, such is the hyper-speed machismo of this relentless explosion of an album.
Home to a barrage of blistering riffs, Tony Moore’s air raid siren (and very Halford-esque) vocals and skilled songwriting, this seemingly forgotten classic was one of the finest metal albums of the decade and deserves to be regarded as such!
Liege Lord – Master Control (1988)
Liege Lord’s debut album Freedom’s Rise was very good and their sophomore album, Burn To The Touch, was great but Master Control was an absolute powerhouse of an 80’s American heavy metal album; a pure power metal/speed metal/heavy metal juggernaut, enhanced by the arrival of new vocalist Joe Comeau.
Comeau‘s vocals (future member of East Coast thrash legends Overkill and Canadian thrash royalty Annihilator) were a revelation, strengthening Liege Lord’s sound with his Bruce Dickinson on steroids delivery. The results should have been strong enough to propel Liege Lord into the big leagues…..but the world wasn’t quite ready.
In keeping with the era, Master Control may have been slightly thrashier than previous material – and would prove to be a fitting swansong (although Liege Lord did reunite in 2013) – but it was an album that arguably perfected power metal way before the world was ready to savour that particular sub-genre’s delights!
Unfortunately, Liege Lord were just a little too early in the game for metal fans who were still addicted to thrash, thrash and more thrash!
Hittman – Hittman (1988)
NY metal band Hittman remain somewhat of a forgotten anomaly when it comes to 80’s metal and yet their debut album, the self titled Hittman, is a stone-cold classic of the era!
Reminiscent of Crimson Glory, Dokken, Exciter and Queensryche, these guys excelled at the kind of melodic power metal that would have sent their career stratospheric had it emerged just a few years prior. Instead, thrash had taken hold and Hittman found themselves rudely passed by – despite garnering praise for their outstanding demo Metal Sport in 1985 – which left Hittman in a state of relative obscurity.
Sure, Hittman weren’t delivering anything particularly groundbreaking but they were bloody good at what they did and the uptempo one-two of openers “Metal Sport” and “Dead On Arrival” still hit the target!
This was just the first article in a series we are hoping to run – so more under-appreciated 80’s American Metal classics will follow!
Oh, if we had a day! MANY great American 80’s metal bands… Among the top three however would have to be Legend “From The Fjords.” SOOOO ahead of it’s time (yes, I know it was released in 1979), it created a somewhat epic style of proto metal that incorporated Viking themes while Heavy Load was barely in existence and Amon Amarth was years away from getting started! Throw in there Agent Steel, Omen, Helstar, Hirax, Cities, Hammerwitch, New York, Abbattoir, Piledriver (Canadian to a degree, but with American members), Exorcist, I could go on and on!!!