Speed Metal

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Speed Metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal music. As the name implies the genre is characterised by its focus on fast playing style and because of this it is often considered to be the progenitor of both thrash metal and power metal. In actuality thrash metal was emerging around the same time as speed metal (and had overtaken it within a couple of years), however much of early thrash metal bears trademarks of speed metal as well, including the Big Four thrash metal bands, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax. This has led to some to use the two terms interchangeably, however speed metal is considered to allow for more melody and less aggressive playing than thrash metal, containing more influence from the music's roots in traditional heavy metal and less from hardcore punk (though speed metal/punk hybrid artists are not unheard of). Additionally speed metal bands are less likely to use growled or shouted vocals than thrash metal. Speed metal's influence on European style power metal, which emerged in the late eighties, was much greater, with many early Euro power metal bands, including Helloween, Blind Guardian and Rage, starting their careers with more speed metal based sounds before becoming power metal acts.

While the roots of speed metal may be traced back even further with tracks such as Deep Purple's Highway Star or Queen's Stone Cold Crazy often credited as being proto-speed metal, it was traditional heavy metal bands such as Motörhead, Accept and Judas Priest that are considered to have had the most influence on the speed metal sound and can be said to have produced individual speed metal songs (such as Accept's Fast as a Shark) before there were any actual speed metal bands or albums.

Some of the first artists to really kick-start speed metal as a genre were Venom, Running Wild and Atomkraft, with Venom releasing the Welcome to Hell album in 1981, which could be considered the first speed metal album. Though as is common for speed metal, all these bands had elements of other genres in their sound as artists that exclusively or even primarily play speed metal are comparatively rare next to other metal sub-genres, though there are many thrash/speed, power/speed and heavy/speed metal bands in existence, who each may or may not have made some speed metal dominated albums. An early notable band to play a primarily speed metal based music was Exciter, who released their debut album Heavy Metal Maniac in 1983 and have mostly stuck with their speed metal dominant sound ever since, though they have also released speed/heavy and speed/thrash releases. Venom later turned to making more heavy and thrash metal based albums while Running Wild become an early example of Euro style power metal and later a more straight heavy metal based act.

Most well known examples of speed metal, which along with the aforementioned also includes Agent Steel, Angel Dust (early) and Savage Grace, are from the eighties. There has however been something of a speed metal renaissance starting in the late 2000's with examples of newer speed metal bands including Ranger, Demona, Speedwolf and Evil Invaders.

In addition to classic speed metal sounds, the genre has had a notable merger with black metal to create a blackened speed metal sound, typically consisting of speed metal guitar riffs with black metal vocals styles and an altogether dirtier atmosphere compared to straight speed metal bands or other hybrid styles, taking their cues from the early template laid down by Venom. Examples of blackened speed metal bands include Joel Grind, Bulldozing Bastard, Occult Burial and Midnight.

Certain neoclassical metal artists such as Joe Stump and Marty Friedman have also used speed metal to form the basis of their music on certain releases, such as Stump's 2004 album Speed Metal Messiah or Friedman's 1988 album Dragon's Kiss.

On MMA, speed/thrash and speed/power metal releases will typically be placed under thrash and power metal respectively, while speed/heavy releases will be placed under speed metal. Blackened speed metal will usually be included under speed metal with the work of neoclassical based artists will be included under neoclassical metal.

- Genre definition written by 666sharon666.

Sub-genre collaborators:
  • 666sharon666 [Leader]

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SAVAGE GRACE Master Of Disguise Album Cover Master Of Disguise
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ANTHRAX Fistful Of Metal

Album · 1984 · Speed Metal
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I like Anthrax. I really do. In fact, I feel somewhat bad for them, as they've always seemed like the ginger stepchild of what's known as the Big Four of thrash metal (including Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer), but like so many early thrash bands, their debut album is fairly unremarkable, with a lack of finesse being evident in their naive and unpolished song writing.

And I know, this is thrash metal, right? What am I expecting? But like all their contemporaries, their later material shows a huge maturity and growth which their earliest releases lack. Such is the case with Anthrax's debut, 'Fistful of Metal'. Although the album starts off well, it quickly loses whatever charm is has as repetition and a lack of any real creativity sinks in.

While guitarists Scott Ian and Dan Spitz have an immediate chemistry, and drummer Charlie Benante proves himself as one of metals most underrated stickmen, it's vocalist Neil Turbin who's performance fails the band. I find his vocals grating, mostly resorting to high pitched wailing that shows a good range, but something about it just annoys the hell out of me.

Still, songs like 'Deathrider', 'Metal Thrashing Mad' and a cover of Alice Cooper's 'I'm Eighteen' salvage this record, and makes it my second favourite of the Big Four's debut albums (Metallica's 'Kill 'Em All' being the best of the bunch). But like so many bands from that era, their best material is yet to come, and earlier releases such as this will soon be left in the shadows.

VULTURE The Guillotine

Album · 2017 · Speed Metal
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There's something about the appearance of Germany band Vulture's debut full-length album The Guillotine (2017) that just screams old school. It's not an empty promise either, since the music is much the same: speed metal straight out of eighties Germany that is so convincingly replicated in all aspects, especially the production, that you'd be forgiven feeling the need to do a double take and check the album's credentials just to make sure this isn't just some unearthed gem that didn't see the light of day way back when, in the dark ages where the Internet didn't allow music to spread like a wildfire. But no, Vulture have only been around since 2015 and have, to date, a preceding demo and single to their name. The guys in the band are hardly strangers to the speed metal style though, with other band credits between them including acts such as Wifebeater and Bulldozing Bastard.

Compared to those other bands who each mix speed metal with something else such as black metal (Bulldozing Bastard) or crust punk (Wifebeater), Vulture represents a much more 'pure' take on the genre, like the band members took the common element between their other ventures and ran with just that, rarely even delving into more full-on thrash metal. This is to say that the record comes over as one dimensional, but speed metal is the kind of genre that can be gotten away with since out of all metal genres it's actually rarely represented in such a pure form as found on The Guillotine.

Things are kicked off though with some keyboards in what on another album may have been a separated intro track but instead takes up a chunk of the opener Vendetta. The Guillotine reminds a little of the way Blind Guardian's Battalions of Fear (1988) opens in this respect, but unlike with Majesty's quirky circus sounds, Vulture's keys sadly sound a bit naff and the band kind of overdo them here too, going on for over a minute before the guitars finally explode into life. From here the band begin a business as usual kind of approach to their music. Fast and loose sounding riffs that are mostly old school and raw, but with plenty of melodic parts that don't quite push them into the territory of closely related genre power metal. The vocals follow a similar pattern, sometimes rapidly barked and hysterical, sometimes more restrained and sometimes semi-harsh and sometimes with the high register let off its leash. It's a varied performance that comes over as delivered with passion, but I have trouble following the lyrics the singer is spurting.

This goes on until Adrian's Cradle (perhaps a reference to their fellow German's Running Wild and their mascot Captain Adrian?), when the synths return briefly, but then it's back to the usual, at least until the following track, (This Night Belongs) To the Dead, which throws in some acoustic guitars instead. There's a pattern here to how the band diverges from their usual and I don't think it would hurt them to vary their formula up a bit in other ways every so often, since calling The Guillotine a formulaic record overall isn't wrong. Being intentionally old school it's not exactly an original sounding album either, though it makes up for what in lacks in that regard by being packed full of riffs and it does indeed have a kind of nostalgic charm surrounding it that makes it an easy listen for anyone who likes their eighties metal and is sure to put some smiles on faces.

What it doesn't do is surpass those that came before it, but Vulture improving as song-writers will no doubt go a long way to help with that, since individual identity proves the biggest detraction while listening to The Guillotine. It's quite a fun album while it lasts, but afterwards little of it sticks with me. The closing Cry for Death is to my ears the best of the eight songs and the only one I can remember any specific thing about upon conclusion aside from those brief track intro diversions, standing out mainly for its lead melody. In summary The Guillotine is a classic case of needing that extra spark to elevate it to noteworthiness.

HELLOWEEN Walls of Jericho

Album · 1985 · Speed Metal
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"Give me wings to fly, ride the sky!"

When people think of classic power metal, Helloween is usually the first band to come to mind. After all, they did release the legendary Keeper of the Seven Keys Parts 1 and 2, which have since became known as two of the greatest metal albums of the 80's. However, before leading the way of the German power metal scene, Helloween released one of the most melodic yet at the same time heaviest thrash/speed metal albums at the time of 1985.

After a short orchestral intro title track, you're thrown right into a storm of riffs and cannonball drums that rain down upon the listener that is called "Ride the Sky". This might simply be the greatest and heaviest song Helloween ever wrote. It really sets a mood, conjuring up images of dogfights in the sky with bullets flying at top speed. It's followed up with "Reptile" which pounds itself into your head, with a real marching stomp of a main riff. That's what you'll get on this album, it will either shred at blinding speeds or pound a stomping groove through your skull. "Heavy Metal (Is the Law)" could not be titled better, as this is a speeding masterpiece that continuously throws catchy guitar and bass riffs and crazy solos. This is a song made for the stage.

While it's hard to beat "Ride the Sky", "Gorgar" may actually take it's place. Talk about a headbanging anthem! It instantly reels you in with a groovy hook, and it becomes impossible to not headbang and scream along. Add in the fantastic metal rendition of Edvard Grieg's classic Hall of the Mountain King as the bridge, and you've got a masterpiece.

This is the only Helloween album that features Kai Hansen on vocals, so this sounds more like what would end up being Gamma Ray then the Helloween most people know. He has a unique and distinct voice that really suits everything that the music does, whether it be thrash, power, or speed. Markus Grosskopf really gets plenty of time to shine on the bass end, you can almost always hear the rumbling, clicking, and shredding basslines. In particular, the closing epic "How Many Tears" highlights this best. "Heavy Metal (Is the Law)" gives some time for some showing off with bass riffs a plenty.

As much as I love the classic Keeper of the Seven Keys albums, Walls of Jericho has always been my favorite Helloween album. It's got the edge of thrash, with the melody of power metal. It's a match made in heaven, and never worked better. If you want to get the definitive version, be sure to get the one that includes their amazing self-titled EP and the blazing classic "Judas". Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

LÄÄZ ROCKIT No Stranger To Danger

Album · 1985 · Speed Metal
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"No Stranger To Danger" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, San Francisco, California based heavy/thrash metal act Lääz Rockit. The album was released through Target Records in 1985 and it´s the successor to "City's Gonna Burn" from 1984. Lääz Rockit was formed in 1982 ans was an active part of the early Bay Area scene, although the early part of their discography only feature very few thrash metal elements...

...and the same applies to "No Stranger To Danger", which features a hard edged heavy metal sound with only a few thrash metal leanings. The tracks are vers/chorus structured with anthemic chorus lines, and almost always featuring a well played guitar solo after the second chorus. So that part of the music is very basic and there´s definitely not the most adventurous approach to songwriting on display here.

It´s of very little importance though, as the band fully make it up with a fiercely convincing performance. The instrumental part of the music is played with raw passion but also features quite a few more sophisticated tricks. Pounding drums, hard rocking bass lines, heavy rocking riffs, and great melodic guitar solos, are the main ingredients of the band´s sound. It´s lead vocalist Michael Coons, who takes the prize though, with his strong voice and commanding attitude filled delivery.

The 9 track, 37:54 minutes long album, is pretty consistent in style and in quality, so while not all tracks stand out equally much, I don´t hear any filler material. Honorable mentions go to the opening trio of tracks "Dreams Die Hard", "I´ve Got Time", and "Town to Town", but the fast paced heavy rocker "Backbreaker" also has its moments.

Overall "No Stranger To Danger" is well worth the price of admission if you´re fan of raw and hard rocking traditional heavy metal, played/sung by skilled musicians, and packed in a powerful and organic sounding production, and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is well deserved.

HELLOWEEN Walls of Jericho

Album · 1985 · Speed Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Tucked in amongst the diversifying sounds that were emerging in the 80s, the metal world found one German band in particular finding a way to carve out a new niche now called power metal by taking the melodic influences of bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and marrying them with a ferocity emerging in the fledgling thrash metal movement as was gestating by the likes of Metallica and Slayer. HELLOWEEN, while most notable for their “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” power combo which pretty much raised the bar high from the very beginning actually had dabbled in the more raw and primeval world of speed metal on their debut album WALLS OF JERICHO. Released in 1985, HELLOWEEN was a new breed of band that was quickly taking the traditional sounds heard in the NWOBHM, emphasizing the melodies, deemphasizing the punk influences and adding more aggressiveness, virtuosity in guitar solos as well as the speed, which have earned this particular transition period as being tagged speed metal.

WALLS OF JERICHO, released in October 1985, can be seen as a mere extension of their debut eponymous EP which was released in April 1985 and were only separated for limitations of time length on vinyl LP records at the time. The album has two significant track listings. The original vinyl contained a mere nine tracks beginning with the title track but as soon as CD technology became common place the album was reformatted in 1987 to include the eponymous EP to provide the first five tracks as well as the bonus track titled “Judas” which very much takes a cue from the great “Judas Priest” not in style and compositional methodology but equally shows how the band had diverged from the sound as much as it shows the similarities at this point. So intertwined are the combo effect of the debut EP with the debut LP that most newer releases don’t even bother to distinguish how the tracks were really separate releases in the beginning.

HELLOWEEN was a different band at this point. Before Michael Kiske would join the band as the vibrant poster child vocalist for the entire power metal scene that the band launched with their “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” fantasy albums, vocals were performed by Kai Hansen who offered a more gritty raw 80s metal sound to the band. His style was very similar to Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson without the distinguished operatic perfections. Like many an 80s metal band, lyrics were based in fantasy, morbidity and just plain fun as well (“Gorgar” is about a pinball game whereas “Heavy Metal (Is The Law)” provided a mindless anthem for fans to sing along about how great it was to bang their heads to metal music! How innocent were those days! Musically WALLS OF JERICHO shows a great deal of derivative tracks such as “Phantoms Of Death” which shows a “2 Minutes 2 Midnight” Iron Maiden type of riffing at first only to become a Judas Priest type of track reminding me a bit “The Sentinel.” Many other tracks are clearly linked to the NWOBHM heroes of the days but tracks like “Guardian” already show a clear deviation from the pack with pure power metal attributes and a prognosticator of exactly where the band was steering their sound.

The debut album by HELLOWEEN is hardly a perfect one for it does have a rather inconsistent selection of tracks that sometimes ring too close to their influences and sometimes surprise as to how far the band had already developed their sound at this point. From the production side of things, WALLS OF JERICHO is much less polished than the albums that immediately followed. This one is a filthy raw metal affair, one that serves it well for a debut as it gave HELLOWEEN the proper street creds to build their sound upon. When push comes to shove, i have to admit that WALLS OF JERICHO is hardly the most sophisticated album of the era dwarfed by the greats of the day as well as by the band's own following masterpieces but there is truly something special about WALLS OF JERICHO. It has an energy and feel unlike anything else of the era. True that bands like Omen were in the same camp, but no one else pulled it off quite like HELLOWEEN. When it comes down to it this is simply an enjoyable album to listen to even if one can intellectually find flaws in the analysis, at least it is quite the enjoyable album for me.

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