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

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EXCITER Heavy Metal Maniac Album Cover Heavy Metal Maniac
4.45 | 11 ratings
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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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HELLOWEEN Helloween Album Cover Helloween
4.04 | 24 ratings
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HELLOWEEN Walls of Jericho Album Cover Walls of Jericho
4.01 | 70 ratings
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EXCITER Long Live the Loud Album Cover Long Live the Loud
4.17 | 6 ratings
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STRIKER City Of Gold Album Cover City Of Gold
4.09 | 7 ratings
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EXCITER Violence & Force Album Cover Violence & Force
4.08 | 6 ratings
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ENFORCER From Beyond Album Cover From Beyond
4.11 | 5 ratings
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VENOM Welcome to Hell Album Cover Welcome to Hell
3.93 | 38 ratings
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RUNNING WILD Gates to Purgatory Album Cover Gates to Purgatory
3.92 | 28 ratings
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Album · 1986 · Speed Metal
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It’s a funny thing because I can remember seeing both Piledriver album covers advertised in Metallion magazine back in the eighties. But at the time I had become a little disillusioned by the metal scene. It seemed that there were just too many anybody bands coming along, and just by posing in leather and bullets they could somehow sell albums of run-of-the-mill music. That’s what Piledriver’s albums made me think of and they were not the only ones.

Strangely enough, as it turns out, I was not too far off base. A few weeks back, Piledriver got mentioned in something I was reading or watching, and as I could remember their album covers easily, I decided to check out more about the band. And that’s how I came to know about “metalploitation”.

The person I heard use this cockamamie term was the young fellow of Nasty Metal Productions, a U-Choob channel about metal music. The way he said, “metalploiTAtion”, emphasizing the second last syllable and spitting it out with venom, made me think he was a nutter for making up the word. However, it was not he who coined it. “Metalploitation”, however you want to say it, was a real phenomenon in the eighties, and companies like Germany’s Metal Industries and Cobra Records in the Canada are among the guilty parties. I’m sure nearly everyone knows about this sordid period in metal history but to spell it out in brief, record companies would create fake bands, usually using real artists and get them to write and record some music to help them pay off debts, and then the record companies would release the records to be sold to undiscriminating teenagers who just had to be the one to find new, exciting bands. Searching the Internet turns up dozens of hits for music blogs and U-Choob music channels.

One such band was Piledriver. As the story goes, a guitarist wanted to fund an album he wanted to record and someone suggested that he write and record a metal album and release it because metal albums could easily sell 20,000 copies, especially if they had an outrageous cover and crazy song titles. The music was written and singer Gord Kirchen was called up by his guitarist friend and asked to sing. In an interview with Gord, he explains that he got paid $250 for the job and forgot about it again, figuring the album wasn’t going anywhere anyway but at least he got his voice on some vinyl and some rent money. The album, “Metal Inquisition” was released on Cobra in Canada and Roadrunner in Europe. It was also released in the States but with some changes to the song titles and track list because the album was too dirty for American standards. One interesting note about the album cover is that the guy on the cover who is getting jackhammered by the guitar is actually wearing a band shirt with the same album cover on it. This means that a T-shirt had to be created with the album cover art on it, and then that shirt worn for the photo shoot that would be the final album cover. This couldn't have been just a simple throw away project.

A year or so later, David DeFeis of Virgin Steele got told by his manager that DeFeis owed some money. His debt would be forgotten however if he would write some albums for fake band projects. He and his guitarist, Edward Pursino, worked together on three projects: Convict, Exorcist, and Piledriver. DeFeis stated in an interview that even though Virgin Steele was his band, he always enjoyed the opportunity to be creative and so he made a serious effort at creating the material for each project. In the same interview, he claimed that Exorcist was where his best work went while Convict received the least love and not surprisingly, the album disappeared quickly. Gord Kirchen was called in to sing for the Convict and Piledriver albums. Kirchen agreed because, hey, more rent money and he could appear on two more pieces of vinyl. When the projects were completed, DeFeis and Pursino went back to work on Virgin Steele while Kirchen started a band called Dogs with Jobs. It wasn’t until nearly a decade later that Kirchen discovered that the two Piledriver albums had become underground classics. According to the Wikipedia article, the two albums together have sold over 500,000 copies worldwide! Kirchen has since revived the band under a new name, Exalted Piledriver, and has received blessings from DeFeis to continue using the material that he wrote.

That’s all for the history lesson. So now how about this Piledriver album, “Stay Ugly”? Interestingly, it gets a lot of praise. At least two U-Choobers declare this to be an awesome album and so do a few bloggers. It sits somewhere on the fence between speed metal/thrash metal and American power metal. Though different from Virgin Steele, the fact that two VS dudes wrote the album does give it more class than just any slap shod project, like the ones I read about from Metal Enterprises on THE CORROSEUM music blog. This actually does sound pretty good for the day. Lots of power, speed, and killer riffs. The lyrics are a bit dorky to listen to now. I suppose if I’d heard this when I was fifteen I might have been singing along but now at forty-seven I crave something a little more profound or inspiring. Nevertheless, this does sound like a one of the better obscure band albums of the mid-eighties.

I have two issues with this album. The first is that the CD I have sounds like it was copied from a vinyl record. Little pops and scratches can be heard. I don’t know if that’s because the re-release used a record as the master source or if it’s just because my version was copied from vinyl. I bought it through Amazon so I’d like to believe it’s an official release.

The second issue is the drumming. It not only has that echoing mid-eighties sound but for most of the album the drums just stick to keeping the beat with the snare and there are few fills, while other drums such as toms or the bass don’t stand out much if they’re being used at all. The bass guitar? I guess I’d notice it if it was not there. The overall production sounds pretty low quality, and DeFeis said that the album cost almost nothing to make. But then again so did the first Virgin Steele album and, despite some excellent songs, I always remember the sound being pretty poor on that one as well.

Other than that, “Stay Ugly” is a decent enough album for what it is. I think if it weren’t for the fact that Kirchen is Canadian, David DeFeis was involved, and the interesting background story, I wouldn’t really need this in my collection. Kirchen himself seems like a loveable guy who really believes in Piledriver. As for me, I think this is as far into metalploitation I will dip.

LÄÄZ ROCKIT Prelude to Death

Demo · 1983 · Speed Metal
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"Prelude to Death" is a demo cassette tape by US, San Francisco, California based heavy/speed/thrash metal act Lääz Rockit. It´s an independent release, and it´s the first release by the band. Lääz Rockit were formed in 1982 and while they were an important part of the early Bay Area thrash metal scene, they never achieved any notable commercial success. They were skilled musicians, and pretty clever composers too though, so their artistic output is widely awknowledged to be of a good quality.

Already this early on it´s obvious that the guys in the band are very well playing and lead vocalist Michael Coons is a real treat to listen to. He has a pretty raw delivery, but still performs with a melodic sensibility and great understanding for catchy phrases.

"Prelude to Death" features 3 tracks and a full playing time of 13:30 minutes. The opening title track is a pretty aggressive and relatively fast-paced heavy/speed metal track, while "Black Leather" is a more traditional heavy metal track greatly influenced by Judas Priest. "Silent Scream" also falls into the more traditional heavy metal style but is slightly heavier than the track preceding it. Only "Silent Scream" and "Prelude to Death" (titled only "Prelude" on the album) would make it unto the band´s debut full-length studio album "City's Gonna Burn (1984)".

As mentioned above the band are very well playing/singing, and the demo also features a pretty well sounding production considering that it´s a heavy metal demo from 1983, so all in all "Prelude to Death" is a relatively strong start for Lääz Rockit, which also helped them land a recording deal with Target Entertainment for the release of "City's Gonna Burn (1984)". While it´s obvious the band still lacks a clear musical direction, their talents are indisputable and a 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is deserved.

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.


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