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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AGENT STEEL Unstoppable Force

Album · 1987 · Speed Metal
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Kingcrimsonprog
Unstoppable Force is the classification-defying Speed/Thrash/Heavy/US Power Metal band Agent Steel’s second full-length album, following up the exciting 1985 debut album Skeptic’s Apocalypse and the 1986 stop-gap EP Mad Locust Rising. The previous record was a blistering Priest, Maiden and NWOBHM influenced explosion of energy, that was reminiscent of a lot of the best early Thrash albums of the time and with a few Queensryche influences sprinkled on top. This 1987 sophomore effort carries on that sound (and UFO obsessed lyrical bent), but sees the LA band lean even more heavily on the early Queensryche sound. Singer John Cryiss definitely has been listening to more Geoff Tate since the last record, and even on the speedier tracks, like the appropriately named opener “Unstoppable Force,” and the catchy “Nothin Left” you can still pick up hints of Tate in his performance. However sometimes the whole band just goes for it and full-on writes a Queensryche song, such as on the moody mid-temp “Still Searching” which comes across as the missing link between The Warning and Rage For Order, or the atmospheric album closer “Traveller” which has some delicious Metallica Fade To Black sounding lead guitar to start off with, but quickly ends up being their equivalent of Roads To Madness; derivative – maybe, delightful – unarguably! The real album highlight however is the six-and-a-half minute instrumental workout “The Day At Guyana” (which is not a Manowar cover, in case you were wondering, but obviously named for the same Jonestown Cool Aid massacre). Like the previous album, clocking in at just over half an hour, this record is filler-free, to the point and great from start to finish. The playing, performance and production are all tighter and more professional than the debut, and this is a damn fine follow up and must have addition to your collection. If you like your Thrash and are also a big fan of Crimson Glory, Metal Church or especially early Queensryche, then this is essential listening.

AGENT STEEL Skeptics Apocalypse

Album · 1985 · Speed Metal
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Kingcrimsonprog
Call it Speed Metal, Thrash Metal, US Power Metal or just plain old Heavy Metal; Agent Steel’s 1985 combat records debut album Skeptic’s Apocalypse is a frentic, buzzsaw of an album that pounds along with an almighty force.

This album is the pure flawless distillation on Metal at the time. No wonder it caused a stir back then. It rocks all the way through, from the (excluding a brief intro) meaty opening track; “Agents Of Steel,” which sounds like if someone took an early Venom song, produced it well, and then inserted insane falsetto shrieks and impressive virtuoso lead guitar work, to the catchy album closer “Back To Reign” – that mixes Iron Maiden’s gallop with some of that Show No Mercy-era Slayer tinny bounce and Feel The Fire-era Overkill vocal power,

Singer John Cryiis is incredibly diverse; sounding by turns like Katon W. De Pena of Hirax, Bobby Blitz Ellsworth of Overkill, Geoff Tate of Queensryche and strangely Philly Byrne of Gama Bomb (check out “Evil Eye/Evil Minds”). His ultra-high moments even give King Diamond a run for his money at times.

In terms of the instrumentalists; Guitarists Juan Garcia (also of Evildead) and Kurt Kilfelt are both an absolute master of the instrument, coming up with lots of memorable lead lines and solos. Drummer Chuck Profus puts in a really solid performance behind the drum kit. The production really leans into the ride cymbal and toms (almost as if the fills were recorded separately afterwards) and makes the drumming really stand out. The bass guitar, courtesy of George Robb can unfortunately be a little inaudible on some songs (or conversely almost too audible in other songs, for example the Queen Of The Reich copyist “Guilty As Charged” has quite loud bass).

Highlights include the speedy/thrashy “Bleed For The Gods” and the more dynamic and versatile “Children Of The Sun” which has a sort of Warning-Era Queensryche feel meets the vibe of Metal Church’s debut (a Seattle-sound if you will – but not in the flannel shirt meaning of that phrase!) and the slightly darker “144,000 Gone” which sounds like a mixture of Anvil and Iron Maiden but more depressing.

If you like Iron Saviour or Gamma Ray’s sci-fi lyrics with Judas Priest influences this is worth checking out, or if you like the production, music and vocals on debut albums by Anthrax, Exciter or Armoured Saint this is really worth checking out. If you want something Thrashy but clean, familiar but distinct, well-produced for the time but still charming and unmistakably 80s, then this is the perfect meeting point. It also helps that its just 30 minutes with absolutely no filler, so it doesn’t get old or outstay its welcome. Don’t overlook it for too long, I can’t believe I never tried this when I was younger.

STRIKER Armed To The Teeth

Album · 2012 · Speed Metal
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voila_la_scorie
This album should be in the top 25 of any list of eighties heavy metal. No, you can leave out any of the more extreme kids like thrash, black, and death metal. But just straight forward heavy metal crossing early Great White, Dokken, and the most kick ass songs off Warrant's "Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinkin' Rich" at their most melodic moments, and going seriously into speed metal at moments of unbridled energy. This album has all the awesome riffing, the blazing lead guitar work, and the soaring vocals of the best heavy metal albums of the eighties. There's even a bit of early American power metal and a few almost Iron Maiden moments here and there.

And the band can throw down some really awesome riffs that catch you completely off guard! A song can seem like your standard heavy charger when suddenly they whack you with a sledgehammer riff. Catch one of the best examples in the final track, "Can't Stop the Rush" but watch for them because they crop up everywhere. "Land of the Lost" and "All the Way" also deliver some great ones.

On this album, Striker prove that they have some of the best heavy metal tricks in the book (to borrow a phrase). But there's one perfectly good reason why this album doesn't appear on any lists of eighties metal and that is because this album was recorded and released in 2012. Yes, Striker are one of those classic metal bands that are around these days, and this album here, "Armed to the Teeth" (sounds like an album by Savage or Omen) proves that a band in the 2010's can create an album that sounds like all the best things about eighties heavy metal. Vocalist Dan Cleary has got the soaring eighties metal vocal down perfectly. For someone like me who's musical tastes were largely founded upon the heavy metal and hard rock music released between 1983 and 1989, this album revitalizes my youthful love for metal and furthermore, it makes me want to smash beer bottles on hardwood tables all the while grinning widely!

Will I be checking out more from this band? Oh, yeah! Come the New Year when the holiday bills have been paid off, I'm aiming to bring home another Striker album. I sure hope it's as killer as this one!

THE GREAT KAT Beethoven on Speed

Album · 1990 · Speed Metal
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UMUR
"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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adg211288
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.

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