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

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Angel Of Mercy – The Avatar (1987)

Angel Of Mercy – The Avatar (1987, Vinyl) - Discogs

Over 35 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)

Tyrant – Too Late To Pray (2017, 30th Anniversary Edition, CD) - Discogs

With a lot (and we mean 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!

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 shouldhave been huge!


Riot – Thundersteel (1988)

Riot – ThunderSteel • The Privilege Of Power (2013, Vinyl) - Discogs

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 – Master Control (1998, CD) - Discogs

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 (future member of East Coast thrash legends Overkill and Canadian thrash royalty Annihilator).

Comeau‘s vocals 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)

Hittman by Hittman (Album; Steamhammer; SPV 85-7568): Reviews, Ratings,  Credits, Song list - Rate Your Music

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!

About Chris Jennings (1985 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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