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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ANGEL DUST Into the Dark Past Album Cover Into the Dark Past
4.41 | 10 ratings
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AGENT STEEL Unstoppable Force Album Cover Unstoppable Force
4.29 | 13 ratings
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ANGEL DUST To Dust You Will Decay Album Cover To Dust You Will Decay
4.32 | 8 ratings
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EXCITER Heavy Metal Maniac Album Cover Heavy Metal Maniac
4.25 | 10 ratings
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EXCITER Long Live the Loud Album Cover Long Live the Loud
4.30 | 5 ratings
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HELLOWEEN Helloween Album Cover Helloween
4.04 | 24 ratings
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HELLOWEEN Walls of Jericho Album Cover Walls of Jericho
3.97 | 70 ratings
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ENFORCER From Beyond Album Cover From Beyond
4.11 | 5 ratings
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EXCITER Violence & Force Album Cover Violence & Force
4.10 | 5 ratings
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VENOM Welcome to Hell Album Cover Welcome to Hell
3.95 | 36 ratings
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RUNNING WILD Gates to Purgatory Album Cover Gates to Purgatory
3.92 | 28 ratings
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ACID Maniac Album Cover Maniac
3.94 | 7 ratings
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EXCITER Heavy Metal Maniac

Album · 1983 · Speed Metal
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"I'm a heavy metal maniac!"

In the early days of thrash, there was a fine line between what made something thrash or just really fast and spitfire heavy metal. Perhaps no band sat on this line more than Canadian heavy metal maniacs Exciter. With their debut coming out the same year as Metallica's debut Kill'em All, it might make you wonder: "Who influenced who?"

Maybe neither did, but either way this album is going to kick your ass until you accept speed metal into your heart. Imagine Van Halen's "Atomic Punk" and Raven on steroids mixed with the debuts from Metallica and Anthrax, and you get this masterpiece. The title track is a pure 80's metal anthem, that makes you want mosh and headbang until intense whiplash occurs. Drums pounding, guitars drilling, and vocals screaming, this is pure heavy metal at its finest.

Exciter is a band that really puts the "power" in power trio, as everything is just absolutely on fire and turned up to 11. Allan Johnson's bass is always able to be heard thumping in the background, complementing John Ricci's electric drill of a guitar. "Mistress of Evil" really displays the bass/guitar interplay the best. Let's jump back to the self-titled song, and just take in the blistering raw guitar solos. It's amazing how something can be so melodic and so venomous at the same time, which is the best I can describe the guitar work on the whole album. Rounding up both the vocals and drum kit, is frontman Dan Beehler. Vocalists who double as drummers have always amazed me, especially when you're pulling off the ridiculously fast drum work on this album.

The title song is of course the main highlight of the album, but my other favorite has to go to the crushing "Iron Dogs". Like what many thrash bands would learn, there is nothing better than a good contrast between slow and pummeling and fast and brutal. The punchy slower-paced riffs flawlessly drive right into the rapid moshing till the end. Following that as best song is the seven minute long "Blackwitch". This is a speed metal power ballad at it's best, a masterful mix of beautiful yet heavy melodies and hooks, somber classical guitar work, all resulting in a rampaging finale of pummeling double bass and hammering guitar that blasts right into the finale "Cry of the Banshee", making it essentially part of "Blackwitch".

Heavy Metal Maniac is a classic album, and if you're looking for something that's both raw and has a good sense of melody, nothing fits the bill better. Exciter wouldn't show any signs of slowing down for a while, with the three albums that follow this one being excellent as well, but that anthem of a title track might just give this debut that edge over the rest as the best.


LIVING DEATH Metal Revolution

Album · 1985 · Speed Metal
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Only a year after their promising but flawed debut, Living Death was back with another German speed/thrash assault. However, there is no longer a concern of a terrible original mixing/production, silly vocals, this a band that is out for blood and means war. Everything except the amateurish qualities have been multiplied by 100, and it does not sound like it was an easy feat.

If you started with the debut like I did, don't expect this album to really resemble it all that much. The riffs pummel with so much more force, the production makes it sound much heavier and massive, and best of all: the vocals. Thorsten "Toto" Bergmann went from a charming vocalist with some rather silly attempts at higher pitched vocals, to a screaming siren. Now he has absolutely no problem with hitting those high notes. Quite the contrary, actually. He sounds like a sinister version of the one and only Udo Dirkschneider of the legendary Accept.

Like the debut, the band still retains quite a bit of their traditional heavy metal roots. Namely the aforementioned Accept, especially with songs like "Grippin' a Heart" which sounds like a more thrash version of said band. The finale "Deep in Hell" also has this traditional metal sound, and has such a fantastic catchy chorus.

The album is also very consistent in quality, there's not a single dud to be found. There are a few songs that stand just a bit above the rest though, in particular the menacing behemoth of "Screaming From a Chamber". Before Slayer came along with South of Heaven, this was the pinnacle of how to slow down thrash to a sinister crawl. The guitars have such a teeth-grinding crunch, and Bergmann's piercing screams of "SCREAMING, SCREAMING FROM A CHAMBER" during the chorus couldn't sound better. That isn't the only slower more sinister song on the album, as "Road of Destiny" is dominated by a haunting lead riff that is absolutely spine-chilling. On the opposite end, "Shadow of the Dawn" is pure fast and furious thrash that easily stands as one of the main highlights.

If you couldn't get past the vocals on the debut, give this album a try. It's amazing how much of a leap of quality happened in only a year, though either way this album is fantastic. If you're looking for a frantic speed/thrash album that has just the right balance of melody and bite, Living Death's Metal Revolution has got you covered. However, the best was soon to come.


LIVING DEATH Vengeance of Hell

Album · 1984 · Speed Metal
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The German thrash scene was a great one. It was home to many bands that would satisfy the taste of thrashers who wanted a more spitting and caustic attack that would end up influencing early death and black metal. You had the "big three" of Kreator, Sodom, and Destruction as well as bands like Tankard and Holy Moses (Which is my personal favorite German thrash band). Not that there weren't bands of this type elsewhere, as Canada was home to Razor and Voivod and Japan had Casbah and Jurassic Jade, but Germany is usually mentioned as the main hub of these types of thrash acts.

Living Death are one of these bands, and like many thrash bands, had a bit of a rough start with their debut. As with many early speed/thrash releases, Vengeance of Hell retains a lot of it's traditional heavy metal influences though adds in a bit of the grit and spit that's needed. Also you've got some amazing cover artwork that displays obscure metal art at it's finest. The original release of the album was absolutely ruined by a terribly muddy mixing, but thankfully the band must have realized that and remixed the album only a year later in 1985, so that's the version I'll be reviewing.

On the music end, everything's here. Soloing of the utmost classic metal tradition, pounding drums that constantly keep the foot tapping, skin-shredding riffs, and a penchant for great melodies. Speaking of melodies though, the vocals can sometimes be a bit of a problem. For the most part, Thorsten "Toto" Bergmann's vocals are fine and have that amateur charm to them. However, when he tries to reach higher pitched notes like in "You and Me" or "Night Light", he just sounds a bit silly. I feel like I'm listening to myself trying to sing Judas Priest songs, and in fact I probably sound exactly like this when I try.

Despite that, what really keeps this album from flopping is both the excellent music and the aforementioned charm. The album sounds like everyone's just having fun, and that's something that I almost always love hearing. I'd take some rather amateurish speed metal that's clearly having fun over ultra brutal, technical, and serious modern death metal any day. It's impossible to not love metal anthems like "Heavy Metal Hurricane", it is seriously a hidden classic metal gem. The chorus on it is just so catchy. Some of the other highlights are "My Victim", "Hellpike", and the excellent closing title track. Damn, the short crushing riff that ends the song is just a beast. It sadly only lasts the last 20 seconds and should have gone on longer, but it does provide a great finale.

The band would very much improve and hone in on their sound on the following two releases especially on the vocal end, but this is a fun album that should not be missed. If you can get past the sometimes dumb-sounding vocals and make sure to listen to the 1985 version, this is a great start to an underrated thrash/speed metal band's career.


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.

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