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 (shared with Thrash Metal and Groove Metal):
  • Vim Fuego (leader)
  • Nightfly

speed metal top albums

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EXCITER Heavy Metal Maniac Album Cover Heavy Metal Maniac
4.52 | 13 ratings
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ANGEL DUST Into the Dark Past Album Cover Into the Dark Past
4.29 | 13 ratings
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ANGEL DUST To Dust You Will Decay Album Cover To Dust You Will Decay
4.35 | 8 ratings
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HELLOWEEN Helloween Album Cover Helloween
4.05 | 25 ratings
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STRIKER City Of Gold Album Cover City Of Gold
4.09 | 7 ratings
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AGENT STEEL Unstoppable Force Album Cover Unstoppable Force
4.00 | 13 ratings
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ENFORCER From Beyond Album Cover From Beyond
4.11 | 5 ratings
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HELLOWEEN Walls of Jericho Album Cover Walls of Jericho
3.93 | 72 ratings
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VENOM Welcome to Hell Album Cover Welcome to Hell
3.91 | 41 ratings
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STRIKER Stand in the Fire Album Cover Stand in the Fire
4.00 | 5 ratings
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RUNNING WILD Gates to Purgatory Album Cover Gates to Purgatory
3.86 | 29 ratings
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EXCITER Long Live the Loud Album Cover Long Live the Loud
3.93 | 7 ratings
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THE GREAT KAT Beethoven on Speed

Album · 1990 · Speed Metal
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"Beethoven on Speed" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US, New York based speed/thrash metal artist The Great Kat. The album was released through Roadracer Records in September 1990. The Great Kat is an act formed by lead vocalist/guitarist Katherine Thomas in 1986. The Great Kat is basically Thomas solo project (and her stage name) with various sessions musicians playing drums and bass. Katherine Thomas is a classically trained violinist and handles both guitars, violin, and vocals on the album.

The Great Kat released her debut full-length studio album "Worship Me or Die!" in 1987, and the musical direction was clear from the start. Speed/thrash metal with raw snarling vocals and neo-classical oriented shredding guitars. Initially not the worst cocktail you could think of, but The Great Kat manages to fail on almost every parameter possible. Generic songwriting which seriously lacks hooks (despite the occasional recognisable classical melody being played with light-speed fast fretboard runs), an obnoxious raw snarling vocal delivery (Thomas can´t seem to decide if she wants to whisper, scream, moan, or snarl, and it all ends up sounding pretty unconvincing), ridiculously bad lyrics which very often revolves around how great Thomas is and how we should all worship her as a metal goddess (and I´m pretty sure they aren´t delivered with a gleam in the eye), and a completely soulless delivery of the music. Check, check, check, and...check.

...on the positive side of things, "Beethoven on Speed" is still a much better release than "Worship Me or Die! (1987)", which to my ears was more or less unlistenable. This time around the sound production is at least decent, there are a couple of riffs and rhythms which aren´t completely generic, and some of the neo-classical shred parts are alright too, but overall it´s still an inconsistent low quality release and a 2 star (40%) rating is me being nice.

BLIND GUARDIAN Follow the Blind

Album · 1989 · Speed Metal
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Germany's Blind Guardian are undisputedly my favourite band. This is mostly because of what I think of as their holy trinity: Tales From the Twilight World (1990), Somewhere Far Beyond (1992) and Imaginations From the Other Side (1995). As far as I'm concerned if anyone claims that a stronger consecutive run of power metal albums (or even metal albums in general) exists then they must have been smoking something potent and highly illegal which left their brain addled beyond repair. But today we aren't here to talk about those albums. Before those came along, we had the original incarnation of Blind Guardian who played speed metal. Follow the Blind (1989) is the second and final album of this sound before they transitioned to power metal and history was made.

It had only been a little over a year since the release of Battalions of Fear (1988), but it's clear on Follow the Blind that Blind Guardian has become a much more polished and professional sounding unit in that time. This may be due at least in part to the band attracting Kai Hansen (Helloween) to guest on the album (and the two that follow it) and I'm sure the soon to be power metal band must have learned some tricks under the wing of one of the guys responsible for creating the genre they went on to play.

The debut Blind Guardian album of course has that special first album charm, that for me at least has always brought me to like it a little more than Follow the Blind. But this isn't an album that should be sold short or overlooked, despite it's quirk of closing with a cover of Barbara Ann originally by The Regents, which admittedly feels completely out of place. I actually stopped the album after the much more logical cover of Demon's Don't Break the Circle for many years and it was only later that I found an appreciate for Barbara Ann and started playing the album in its entirety. In hindsight it seems a rather ballsy thing for a band only on their second album to go ahead and do.

The original tracks on Follow the Blind are where it shines of course. Of particular note is Valhalla where we get guest vocals from Kai Hansen. I remember that as among the first Blind Guardian songs I heard and really loved. It had such a classic sound that screamed at me that this was what metal sound be all about. It remains a favourite Blind Guardian track to this day, with other highlights from the album being Banish from Sanctuary and Damned For All Time. The band's speed metal sound on this album is probably the closest they ever came to having some actual thrash metal material. If they'd been American, that's probably the direction they'd have taken next. Luckily they were German and speed metal over there meant proto-power metal rather than proto-thrash and so a legend was born.

While it's not quite top tier for Blind Guardian, Follow the Blind is an album I absolutely love. Even after listening to the band for over a decade, I'm still blown away by them and hold them up as the standard of what metal should be like.

AGENT STEEL Unstoppable Force

Album · 1987 · Speed Metal
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An unfortunate case, as many have said before me: the music here is fantastic, but the vocals are very grating. The musicianship is prime Speed Metal, with fantastic, melodic riffs constantly assaulting you backed up by a very good rhythm section that combines speed and precision. Pretty much every song has a couple of worthy riffs that could be at home on any metal masterpiece of the 80’s.

It is no accident that the instrumental here is considered the best track, despite the music being on par the entire album. The vocalist is, not exactly bad, but… It just doesn’t work. When he’s singing more slowly and melodically, like in the acoustic into to Chosen to Stay, he actually does a good job, and has quite an impressive range. When he’s singing fast and more aggressively though, it all falls apart. It’s pitchy, grating, maybe off key, I can’t really tell since he’s changing notes so frequently. It just doesn’t work.

The lyrics are pretty standard sci-fi/fantasy fare, and follow the same themes as the first album. There are numerous nods to conspiracies and such, nothing really outstanding or even unique at the time. This is one of those albums that would just fair better as an instrumental piece, and would have improved significantly from a better vocalist.

HELLOWEEN Walls of Jericho

Album · 1985 · Speed Metal
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Helloween really laid down the blueprints for true Power Metal with their debut, as opposed to the USPM bands like Omen and Jag Panzer were already playing. Helloween took the most melodic aspects of twin guitar bands like Iron Maiden and the speed of bands like Exciter and Metallica and turned them all way up. The result is a very up-tempo (for metal) style that remains incredibly melodic despite playing as fast and hard as some of the most extreme bands at the time. The birth of Power Metal.

The music really shines here, and it has to; vocalist/guitarist Kai Hansen is passable at best as he strains to hit the notes he really wants to here. Despite that, the musicianship is top tier and almost all songs are great.


Album · 1982 · Speed Metal
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This album has 3 weaknesses. The playing is a bit sloppy at times, the production is bad, and the vocalist can be rather grating.

Those things aside, the album is one of the greatest of it's era. The music itself sounds similar to (and is on par with) Maiden in terms of melody and riffs, and is actually heavier and faster than anything they had done at the time. This is one of the only albums before Thrash broke out in '83 to have moments of nonstop, pounding double bass drumming on more than one song, and I think only Venom had them matched in terms of how frequently they employed this technique.

If this band was from England and took advantage of the NWOBHM boom at the time, I have no doubt they would have sealed a record deal quite easily with this material and gone on to be revered as one of the founding fathers of Speed metal. Unfortunately, they broke up after this release went nowhere in their home of France, and have been forgotten by all but underground enthusiasts. While their weaknesses can't be ignored, they definitely deserve credit for what seemed like unmatched potential that was unfortunately never realized.

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