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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)

Griffin - Flight Of The Griffin | Releases | Discogs

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)

Cirith Ungol – King Of The Dead (1984, Vinyl) - Discogs

Everything about Cirith Ungol screamed of fantasy/power metal – from their 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, was released on 24th April 2020 via Metal Blade Records. 

Fates Warning – The Spectre Within (1985)

Fates Warning – The Spectre Within (1985, Vinyl) - Discogs

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)

Fortress – Fortress (1985, Vinyl) - Discogs

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, Judas 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)

Manilla Road - Open The Gates - Amazon.com Music

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!

About Chris Jennings (1978 Articles)
I love metal. Always have. Always will. As editor of Worship Metal - a site dedicated to being as positive about metal and its myriad of sub-genres as possible - my aim is to 'worship' metal through honest reviews, current news and a wide variety of features; offering the same exposure to underground bands as we do to mainstream/well known acts. Our mantra; the bands are partners and we exist to serve the bands \m/

1 Comment on 15 Under-Appreciated Classics Of 80’s American Heavy Metal

  1. 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!!!

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