Just one look at the cover of the demo tape tells us everything we need to know. Scanning the artwork, you see an all black and blood-red aesthetic featuring a medieval warrior sitting upon a throne. Your eyes are drawn to the words “WHETSTONE” and “ANCIENT METAL”. Now I see something like this and it immediately gives me a certain expectation of the band’s sound and luckily, Ancient Metal sounds exactly like it looks.
As media, communications, and technology became more accessible, the Latin American region saw an ever-increasing rise in metal bands. For this Demo Dungeon special, we look at some demo-only bands from various countries. As these are demo recordings, sound production tends to be of low quality, but just like with the pioneering bands of the early and mid 80s, the rawness of these recordings are part of the charm. These bands, like their predecessors before them, had to fight tooth-and-nail to play a demonized style of music in dangerous and neglected parts of the world.
Not long ago I was having dinner with a very good friend of mine discussing about all those demos that we wished to be reissued but we both knew that was only wishful thinking. And then he mentioned Candle Opera, an extremely obscure heavy/ power band from Canada that somehow he managed to get one track from their long lost 1992 demo to upload in his Youtube Channel. Little we both knew then that at the same time Cult Metal Classics was working on a release of their long lost demo titled Dream Theatre.
Some bands, such as Oblivion or Enchanter, make me scratch my head at the fact that they’re completely unknown, as they rule extremely hard and are similar to some more well-known bands (Sanctuary and Fates Warning, respectively). Clearly some metalheads just aren’t willing to go the extra mile and find the hidden gems – because plenty of people would go apeshit over those two acts, I’m pretty confident. A band like MaelstroM though – their obscurity is no surprise whatsoever – in fact I’d be surprised if they were well-known. Not because they suck, but because they’re so absurdly esoteric; neoclassical power/speed/thrash with extremely progressive song structures, random acoustic segments, and proto-death metallish yells alternated with really, really fucking strange and off-putting cleans. Add in songs that average around 7 minutes in length, and you have an inaccessible demo by some no-name power/thrash band.
Domine has received a fair amount of attention for their 1997 debut Champion Eternal and their subsequent albums, many of which also cover the subject of Elric of Melnibone. Elric is the subject of Michael Moorcock’s epic fantasy saga which began in the 1960s and became an exceptionally popular subject for 80s metal, likely due to the character’s pale skin, self reflectiveness, and, nihilism- qualities to which many metal fans could relate. Moorcock’s own love of rock music, which went as far as to actively work with bands like Deep Purple and Hawkwind, probably made his works even more accessible to those desiring to make metal music. While Domine was far from the first metal band to utilize his works as a source of inspiration, it was one of the first not from the UK or the US, and thus something of a novelty, to an extent at least.
Japan’s fascination and adoration with Traditional Heavy Metal is well documented and a boon that has provided us with a veritable buffet of incredibly passionate and well executed metal. Comparatively (and to my disappointment) the country’s abilities or interest never really made their way to doom metal. The Metal archives lists only 86 doom metal bands in Japan of which traditional and epic doom metal makes up only a small percentage. Outside of notable bands like Bellzlleb and Church of Misery, very few ever gained any real attention. Despite the massive influence that Black Sabbath has had over heavy metal, it seems that doom metal just completely failed to draw the attention that heavy, thrash or black metal did in Japan.
Since the conception of metal, myriads of bands have dwindled in obscurity, taking it upon themselves to release only a few songs over one or two demos or singles before vanishing from the face of the earth, never to return again. We generally tend to polarize these bands based on the fact that they have so little material that it’s not likely to be diverse enough to facilitate a mixed opinion; thus the band is either thrown out the window as complete garbage, or elevated to a legendary status of a band untarnished by mediocrity, and, if they somehow reformed today, could certainly do no wrong. Enchanter falls into the latter category, releasing only eight songs over the span of two demos and a single in the late 1980s, but in this case, every song was absolutely killer, making for a spectacular compilation album and thrusting the band, at least in my mind, onto a pedestal of the grandest heights.
1990 was a pretty strange time for epic heavy metal, especially for Greece. The early 80s saw the beginning of epic metal, with releases from the grandfathers, Manilla Road and Manowar, as well as some lesser known acts, such as Legend and Dark Quarterer. The mid-to-late 80s saw a small wave of derivative acts, such as Baron Steele, Valkyrie, and Martiria, spring up in various locations (mostly from the U.S. and Italy). The movement would start to pick up again in the early-to-mid 90s, with acts like Longings Past, Wotan, and Crush, but ’89-’92 was a pretty barren time for Mediterranean epic metal; the founding fathers were mostly broken up, and the second wave hadn’t taken off yet for the most part. Enter Greece’s Ageless Wisdom.
Epic metal has grown to be marginally popular in recent years, at least in countries like Italy and Greece, who have adopted a movement that barely even existed in the United States, playing in the style of Manilla Road and Manowar, who, aside from a couple of incredibly obscure acts (Longings Past, Stormbringer) were the only ones playing it for a long time. However, other examples of epic heavy metal, though few and far between, did pop up occasionally during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Ageless Wisdom put out a demo in 1990, Wotan had one in ’93 – but Valkyrie, from the Netherlands of all places, were one of the first to try and capitalize on the sound that the epic metal grandfathers – in this case, Manowar, not Manilla Road – first brought to the world.