Looking back, it’s hard to view 1984 as anything other than a banner year for heavy metal. The sheer amount of world-beating releases across a wide range of styles is almost unmatched by any year to follow. What we now call traditional metal provided an onslaught of classics, thrash and power metal both launched themselves headlong into the international fray, Sabbath’s legacy was in fine form via the first releases from Trouble, Saint Vitus and Paul Chain Violet Theatre, and thirty-five years on most black metal still comes up short against the triumvirate of Apocalyptic Raids, Morbid Tales, and Bathory’s self-titled debut.
It would also mark the (semi-official) end of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the very movement which sowed the seeds for much of the development that followed. A veritable eruption of new bands from the United Kingdom in the wake of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, UFO, Thin Lizzy, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin, Budgie, Motörhead and Judas Priest, in its earliest stages you could argue the bands under the NWOBHM banner shared significant stylistic overlap. However, before long that was not to be the case, and the acronym simply became a way to refer to a collective group of bands from the same region and time period, rather than any specific style or genre. (But if you want to argue Def Leppard, Witchfinder General, Cloven Hoof, Shiva, and Venom are essentially the same style of metal, by all means go ahead.)
If the etymology of the term is somewhat concrete, the time range is a more common topic of debate. Most people can at least agree on 1978 being the start (the term was originally coined by Geoff Barton in a review of an Angel Witch/Iron Maiden/Samson concert the following year), while the end point is a more contentious matter, with 1982, 1983 and 1984 all in the running. For the purposes of this article we’re going to go with 1984 as the stopping point, and pick things up starting in 1985 where the amount of releases from the U.K. tapered off dramatically.
You could write an entire encyclopedia about the NWOBHM. Fortunately, no one else has to since Malc MacMillan already undertook the Herculean task, and there’s no accolade high enough to do justice to said tome. (It should go without saying his book, The N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia, was an invaluable research tool for this article.)
So then, with metal exploding worldwide on an previously-unmatched level, with this article we’re taking a look at what happened in the wake of the NWOBHM. The goal here isn’t a fully comprehensive list of everything that eked its way out all the way down to rehearsals and audience-recordings of live sets. Instead, we’ve compiled a bunch of worthwhile releases from the biggest names on down through some hidden gems.
In the interests of keeping this to a manageable length, with a few exceptions we’re leaving out glam (Black Rose, Wrathchild, etc.) and the more hard rock-leaning bands (Tobruk, Ezy Meat, Spider, Nightwing, Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts, Mama’s Boys, etc.). Same for the releases recorded years prior but not released until later on, like the Tytan full-length, and – for more obvious reasons – we’re also leaving out the releases from the old guard bands who flushed everything in failed attempts to capture some of Def Leppard’s success. On the opposite end of the extremity scale from that, no thrash, grind, crust or death, either … no matter how Hell-ish that Sabbat flexi might’ve been at times.
… and no matter how good that final EF Band album was, they were still Swedish.
There’s a lot to get through ahead, so here’s a playlist comprising some favorites from the biggest names all the way on down to some more overlooked acts. Please note that this playlist is not ranked in order of “best” releases, but rather it’s put together to create a great listening experience!
- Tank – “Reign of Thunder”
- Iron Maiden – “Sea of Madness”
- Cloven Hoof – “Reach For the Sky”
- Blitzkrieg – “Inferno”
- Masque – “No Light to Die By”
- The Blood – “Incubus”
- Charger – “Desperadoes”
- Satan – “Key to Oblivion”
- Tröjan – “Hypnotized”
- Virtue – “High Treason”
- Traitors Gate – “Devil Takes the High Road”
- Omega – “The Dark”
- Sacrilege – “Father Time”
- Persian Risk – “Dark Tower”
- Desolation Angels – “Evil Possessor”
- Excalibur – “Haunted By the Shadows”
- Tredegar – “Richard III”
- Hammer – “Contract with Hell”
- Full Moon – “Highlander”
- Raven – “On the Wings of an Eagle”
- Marshall Law – “Under the Hammer”
- Elixir – “Son of Odin”
The A to Zs of the Post-NWOBHM
Click on the expandable band names or arrows below to read a description and listen to the bands in question!
In prime position to capitalize on the momentum from their 1980 self-titled debut, instead Angel Witch wound up spinning their wheels for years. A myriad of lineup changes, breakups, reformations, aborted releases, and sporadic live appearances would be the course they’d navigate for half a decade, before signing with Killerwatt and heading back into the studio in spring 1985. Bandleader Kev Heybourne demoted himself from the lead singer role in the interim, and the ensuing album Screamin’ n’ Bleedin’ marked a fairly significant departure from the dark atmosphere and evil riffing found throughout the debut. (Though there were already glimmers of this new direction on a three song demo recorded in 1983 and re-released two decades later as They Wouldn’t Dare, with one of the songs – “Evil Games” – being carried forward to the next album.)
Admittedly it does take some adjustment getting used to a kinder, gentler Angel Witch with the rough edges sanded down and a more refined vocal approach in lieu of Heybourne’s ragged charm, but once you get past the initial shock and take the album on its own merits, a good chunk of the material still delivers. The following year’s Frontal Assault follows suit, albeit in somewhat patchier fashion. Still, there are enough highlights throughout to justify its inclusion here, including “Rendezvous With the Blade,” which dates back to the pre-debut days. (It would also get another go-round a decade and a half later as “Guillotine” on comeback album As Above, So Below).
Heybourne would soon assemble a new lineup of the band, reclaiming the lead vocal spot in the process, and an American tour soon followed. Recorded during the Los Angeles stop, 1990’s Angel Witch: Live would find the new four-piece version of the band running through a slew of classics both from the debut and early demos.
Featured releases: 1985 – Screamin’ n’ Bleedin’, 1986 – Frontal Assault, 1990 – Angel Witch Live
Front-loaded with harder-rocking fare, the bulk of Sleepwalking’s A-side points squarely to the movement’s earliest proponents before taking a turn for heavier territory on the closer, following suit throughout the B-side. The band feels equally at home in either clime, and ultimately the release comes off as a strong effort. Not a worldbeater, but a fine release and well worth a listen.
Featured release: 1988 – Sleepwalking
One of England’s finer proponents of the frenzied Motörhead/Venom/Tank approach to things, Atomkraft burst out of the gate in fine fashion with their debut, 1985’s Future Warriors. Somewhere behind frontman Tony Dolan’s mammoth bass tone lurks some surprisingly accomplished guitar playing for the style, and Dolan’s bass lines dominate the proceedings. Unsurprisingly at its best during the fastest moments (and there are many), it’s hard to sum things up better than the opening lyrics to “Total Metal.” With some lineup changes following the album, the following year’s Queen of Death EP would find a couple of ex-Avenger members taking over the bass and vocal positions. While the ensuing EP might’ve lacked the chaotic delivery and monster bass presence, the bulk of it channeled a similar level of aggression into a more precise, thrashier delivery. Dolan would return for the following year’s Conductors of Noize EP, though Ian Swift would retain the vocalist, and if anything the intensity level got ratcheted up even farther, frequently tipping over into thrash territory.
Featured releases: 1985 – Future Warriors, 1986 – Queen of Death EP, 1987 – Conductors of Noize EP
With 1984’s strong effort Blood Sports under their belts, things looked good for Avenger’s 1985 follow-up Killer Elite. While the debut’s unbridled energy and wild feel is missed (a point driven home by the appearance it puts in right near the end via ripper “M.M. ‘85”), on the plus side Ian Swift turns in a stronger vocal performance than on the debut and the album both opens and closes quite well, with a handful of tracks that equal anything off the previous album. A fine effort in its own right, it’s only when held up against its predecessor it comes off as lacking, and fans of Judas Priest, Satan, and Blitzkrieg should find plenty to sink their teeth into.
Featured release: 1985 – Killer Elite
Badger Bell Band/Badger
Whle Badger/Badger Bell Band’s first 7” might not have been a worldbeater, their second – 1986’s Over the Wall – should be a hit with fans of the rougher edge of Fist, early Holocaust, and Crucifixion. The title track and live B-side “Runaway” in particular stand out, and the whole release nails the sort of feel found in any number of top-shelf NWOBHM singles from the movement’s heyday.
Featured release: 1986 – Over the Wall 7”
Beg to Differ
On their lone single, Beg to Differ don’t exactly put their best foot forward. A-side “Movin’ Away” rides a little too close to “The Number of the Beast” for comfort (and it ain’t just the riff causing that), before finally settling into the kind of feel that made Mythra’s Death and Destiny EP such a keeper. Not a bad song, but B-side “The Singer and The Artist” offers a stronger case for the single’s going price being based on something more than just scarcity. “The Singer and The Artist” spends its first half calmly navigating laid-back Wishbone Ash-type territory before suddenly flooring it and turning the back half of the song into a burner. It’s an effective trick, and to their credit the band pull off both parts of the song well.
Featured release: 1985 – The Singer and The Artist 7”
Three years after their quite good 1983 12” No More Chances, Bitches Sin’s second album Invaders would hit the shelves. With over half the songs being re-recorded from various demos or the 12” (or both), it’s no wonder the album feels a bit out-of-time, but fans of Samson and White Spirit should dive on in. After some lineup changes (and a detour into AOR territory under the name Flash Point), the band would re-record the bulk of the album as well as three new songs in 1988, and it would be released under the same title the following year. While both versions have their moments, the re-recording shines a bit brighter thanks in part to some strong exclusive songs, and both versions have been helpfully compiled onto one release.
Featured releases: 1986 – Invaders, 1989 – Invaders
Ebony Records’ short-lived sub-label Criminal Response would release five damn solid albums throughout 1985 (three a bit too Swedish for this feature but covered in Panos’ exemplary guide elsewhere on the site), with Blackmayne’s sole album slightly edging out the label’s other English act. Sticking primarily to the same kind of punchy, driving mood throughout, the album works well across the board, and the energy stays up at an admirable pace throughout. Closer “Altered States” ends things with a bang, ratcheting up the intensity nicely. Admittedly they do rely a bit much on the “Swords & Tequila”/”Welcome to Hell”/”Flash Rockin’ Man”/”Two Minutes to Midnight”/etc., etc., etc. type riff, but they were hardly alone in that.
Featured release: 1985 – Blackmayne
Two years on from their solid debut Hunted, 1986’s Warriors of Rock would be a much more ambitious effort from Blade Runner. Opener “Eyes of the Beholder” alone would be enough to justify the album’s inclusion on this, a monstrous slice of ambitious power metal sure to hook any Cloven Hoof or Dark Heart fan, and while it sets the bar high for what follows, a good chunk of the album more than makes the cut. Mid-album highlight “Lionheart” is another great example of how far the band had come from the debut, where it felt like the lion’s share of the effort went into the guitar solos rather than the songs themselves. A damn fine album, though sadly it would be the band’s last.
Featured release: 1986 – Warriors of Rock
After Satan parted ways with singer Brian Ross on the heels of 1983’s monumental Court in the Act, the remaining 4/5ths of the band brought in ex-Saracen singer Lou Taylor (the Roxsnax Saracen, not the Heroes, Saints and Fools Saracen) as his replacement. Ultimately Taylor wouldn’t just change the band name, he’d alter their course entirely, and under the Blind Fury moniker (appropriated from Taylor’s previous band), a more commercial and far less devilish Satan would take form. But Out of Reach’s rep as the black sheep in the discography is, if anything, a bit blown out of proportion. It’s more accessible, sure, but in the same way, say, Cloven Hoof were on Dominator and A Sultan’s Ransom compared to their EP and self-titled album *and stylistically, that’s pretty much what you can expect.) Each side of the album has a pair of back-to-back highlights – the title track and “Evil Eyes” on the A-side, and B-side’s closing duo of “Back Inside” and the truly stunning “Dance of the Crimson Lady, Part 1” – that are shining illustrations of how adept the band were at crafting top-shelf material in a fairly different vein than what they’d done before … and would soon go on to do.
Featured release: 1985 – Out of Reach
Originally breaking up in 1981 after some lineup problems and an aborted attempt to record their debut album, it wouldn’t be until after singer Brian Ross had stints with Avenger, Satan and Lone Wolf that a Blitzkrieg reformation would be in order. Founding guitarist Jim Sirotto and previous bassist Mick Moore would join him for A Time of Changes, along with Satan’s drummer Sean Taylor and new guitarist Mick Proctor. Primarily consisting of new versions of the songs originally intended to make up the album, there was also a curveball to be found in the form of Satan’s “Pull the Trigger,” which hadn’t made it to their own Court in the Act. One of the absolute best albums to be found in this feature, on the site, or, hell, in the entire genre, if you’re unfamiliar with the bulk of what’s covered here and only planning to check out a handful of things, make sure this is one of them. Singling out track highlights would be a bit futile, but gun-to-head “Vikings,” “Armageddon,” “Inferno” and the re-recording of “Blitzkrieg” from their first 7” would be up there. Unfortunately the previous issues with lineup instability would soon resurface, though, and the band would be unable to capitalize on the album at the time. Several new lineups down the road, Ross would be the lone constant, and beginning with 1991’s Ten Years of Blitzkrieg EP he would lead the band through a string of killer releases throughout the dark ages and well into the 2000s, and the band continues to this day.
Featured release: 1985 – A Time of Changes
The same punk band responsible for the ripping Megalomania 7” just a few years prior, 1985’s Se Parare Nex would be … well, decidedly not that. One hell of an outlier for the band, the EP would feature a complete overhaul in terms of sound and songwriting, Tank’s Mark Brabbs behind the drum kit for half the material, new pseudonyms all around, and none other than Cronos handling production duties. Leaning hard towards a mix of metal and dour goth rock, opener “Incubus” sets an impossibly high standard for the rest of the EP, which, unfortunately, never gets anywhere close afterwards. The latter style takes hold for the remainder of the release largely at the expense of the former, although there are some echoes of their previous sound (not to mention Alice Cooper’s theatricality) lurking throughout.
Featured release: 1985: Se Parare Nex
If the title Red, Raw and Bleeding! wasn’t a strong enough indication of what to expect from Blood Money’s debut, the cartoonish bloody chainsaw adorning the artwork should clear up any lingering doubts. Vicious speed metal through and through, with Jaguar/Raven-type material ratcheted up a few notches thanks to the kind of intensity and raw delivery more in line with Atomkraft/Warfare. And while a fair amount of similar bands are let down a bit by vocal shortcomings, in Blood Money’s case frontman Danny Foxx might’ve been a bit overqualified for the gig ability-wise. That being said, if you’re looking for things like subtlety, diversity or dynamics in the material, well … look elsewhere. Otherwise, both their debut and the following year’s more-of-the-same Battlescarred will hit the mark at full speed.
Featured releases: 1986 – Red, Raw & Bleeding!, 1987 – Battlescarred
While far from the only one-7”-only band to make the cut for this, Charger might be the one with the single biggest discrepancy in terms of the two sides of their single. B-side “Are You Out There” is fine. You’ve heard worse. A-side “Desperadoes,” though, is one of those magical songs like “We Stand to Fight,” “Treachery,” “Reach For the Sky,” “No Light to Die By,” etc. – the kind of thing that makes you wonder why more people don’t talk about it constantly … and in this particular case, why the damn 7” still hasn’t been reissued.
Featured release: 1987 – Desperadoes 7”
Simple, straightforward and possessing a good ear for memorable guitar harmonies, by the time Chariot’s 1984 debut The Warrior came out most of the bands you could lump them in with (Savage and Tygers of Pan Tang especially) had moved on to different-and-not-in-a-good-way territory. Two years on, their album Burning Ambition gets tripped up a bit by a handful of more overtly commercial numbers, but the bulk of the album is a more-than-worthy follow up The Warrior (especially opener “Screams in the Night”), and if anything it comes off like a midpoint between Elixir’s first two albums.
Featured release: 1986 – Burning Ambition
If the then-new lineup featured on Chateaux’s 1984 album Fire Power made for a much different listening experience than the previous year’s Steve Grimmett-fronted Chained and Desperate, 1985’s Highly Strung opted for a similar approach with slightly stronger production. While arguably none of Highly Strung hits the same height as its predecessor’s standout “White Steel,” the album acquits itself nicely throughout. Even “Hot Touch at Midnight” isn’t the disaster its title might suggest, although the British Steel-like song does suffer a bit from being sandwiched between two of the album’s strongest moments, including the downright pummeling instrumental “Phalanx.” “Chase the Sun,” “First Strike” and closer “Midnight Star” prop up the album’s B-side quite well.
Featured release: 1985 – Highly Strung
With their monumental self-titled debut appearing in 1984, Cloven Hoof’s momentum would soon be stopped courtesy of lineup changes, including singer David Potter leaving to join French speedsters H-Bomb. In the years to come, the band would lean more and more towards power metal stylistically, which would be borne out on their next release, 1986’s “live album” Fighting Back. And, well, it’s got a few things working against it sonically, but even with the canned drums, layered vocals and guitars and dubbed-in crowd noise all providing obstacles (as well as indications the live album might not be very live at all), Fighting Back still makes for an enjoyable listen in spite of the lacking sound.
New singer Rob Kendrick makes the most of his only outing with the band, and the all-new material mostly hits the mark, including a few highlights in particular. Said highlights would be re-recorded for 1988’s Dominator, the debut of new singer Russ North, albeit unfortunately a continuation of the band’s production problems. Fortunately the sonic deficiencies can’t kneecap the strength of the material, though, and if anything previous standouts “Reach For the Sky” and “Road of Eagles” (originally from an early demo) shine even more in their newest form. 1989’s A Sultan’s Ransom would serve as a glorious way for the band to end the decade. Now fully within the realm of power metal, everything great about Dominator is improved upon, and depending on who you ask the batch of songs is either their best since the debut or their best, period. “Highlander,” “Silver Surfer,” “Astral Rider,” and especially stunning closer “Mistress of the Forest” stand out a bit from the rest, although that’s no knock against any of them barring the comparatively lightweight “It’s a Mad, Mad World.”
Featured releases: 1986 – Fighting Back, 1988 – Dominator, 1989 – A Sultan’s Ransom
The other UK Criminal Response signing, Cobra might not have been the most song-for-song consistent band to be found here, but both of their releases have enough high points to make them worthwhile. The opening title track and closer “China Syndrome” off their 1985 debut Warriors of the Dead would be enough to justify the band’s inclusion for this, and ballad “Dying Man’s Song” isn’t far behind as far as highlights go. (There’s also the eye-catching color scheme on the cover.) The following year’s Back From the Dead would find the band making the jump from sub-label to Ebony proper, although they took a real hit in terms of production values. Still, “Devil’s Daughter” and especially “Longest Night” stand out from the rest.
Featured releases: 1985 – Warriors of the Dead, 1986 – Back From the Dead
Coming from a similarly hey-waiiiiit-a-minute background as The Blood, 1990’s Lethal wasn’t the first time Cockney Rejects dipped a toe into metal waters. Hell, you could probably fool someone unfamiliar into believing the bulk of 1982’s Pete Way-produced The Wild Ones came from some forgotten NWOBHM album, and its successor Quiet Storm – released as The Rejects – strayed even farther from the band’s punk beginnings. 1990’s Lethal would continue that progression and step even farther into the realm of hard rock than anything they’d done before. Unfortunately the album does have a few missteps (and the occasional whiff of major label sleaze rock sure doesn’t help), but “Go Get It” and “Penitentiary” alone are enough to make it a worthy listen, and “Once a Rocker” does the atmospheric half-ballad kinda thing well. Not anywhere near their earliest punk efforts or The Wild Ones quality-wise, but not a bad effort, either … albeit one that might have benefited from being released under a different band name.
Featured release: 1990 – Lethal
With a killer 7” and almost a half-dozen demos under their belt by the time they recorded 1986’s First Strike, Dealer’s lengthy stylistic evolution ultimately made for a somewhat uneven album. Some of the material hearkens back to the band’s rough-and-ready beginnings, while other songs lean more towards the power metal direction the band embraced over time, with the two approaches rubbing up against each other awkwardly within the running order at times. Both sides of the album open and especially close strong, though, with side-concluding epics “Epitaph” and “Final Conflict” towering over the rest of the album with ease. Uneven in places (especially lyrically), but worth a shot for sure.
Featured release: 1986 – First Strike
Where even to begin …
One of the most unique albums to be found here, it’s hard to do Nine Inches of God justice with a capsule review (or any kind of review, really.) You’ll just end up bogging yourself down in describing each song in too much detail and any comparisons aren’t really going to apply to anything else on the album. Even worse, you’ll spoil the surprises and fairly constant “wait … what was that” factor. In short: this is one weird, singular album, and don’t let sporadic moments like the “Pigfeeder!” bridge or the entirety of “Lovers of the Dream” deter you from the rest of the album. (Which admittedly might be hard in the latter’s case, especially coming after two of the high points.)
Featured release: 1986 – Nine Inches of God
If Deliverance had only released 1987’s Devil’s Meat, they probably wouldn’t have made the cut for this. It’s a fairly well-done, fun slice of Venom worship, but a little hard to recommend over any number of others. 1989’s Evil Friendship, on the other hand, gleefully stakes out its own twisted territory. Deliriously flying off the rails at multiple opportunities, at various points throughout its runtime the album calls to mind early Kat, Death SS, Bulldozer, and even King Diamond. The following year’s The Book of Lies would follow suit in a similar vein, albeit nowhere near as audaciously or effectively.
Featured release: 1989 – Evil Friendship
Managing to invoke a hefty Black Sabbath influence without crossing over into doom territory, Desolation Angels stood apart stylistically from their contemporaries and it resulted in a top-shelf first album. Their self-titled debut packs quite a punch despite never kicking the tempos into high gear, and the Sabbath comes shining through in the form of crushingly heavy riffage. Re-recorded from their previous 7”, “Valhalla” ranks amongst the strongest songs to be found on the album, though in all honesty it’d be easier to list off the songs that don’t stand out in one way or another.
Featured release: 1986 – Desolation Angels
Originally operating under the name Slayer, around the release of their 1983 I Want Your Life 7” the band would change their name for what one would hope are obvious reasons. Under the new moniker, a seven song demo would be recorded in 1985 and released the following year. While the band’s previous efforts were solid, this would show them at their peak, shifting between early ‘80s Priest/Riot type stuff and the kind of triumphant feel found on Tyrant’s “Hold Back the Lightning” single, albeit with more conventional vocals here.
Featured release: 1986 – Demo
After leaving Tredegar fairly early on, bassist Alan Fish would establish his own band, Egypt. While their self-titled album covers a fair amount of stylistic ground, weirdly enough the bulk of it comes off like a quirkier, less shred-happy Vicious Rumors. “Richard III” (brought over from Tredegar) and the “Crazy Horses” cover (admittedly not the best opener) offer up a few curveballs, and the band delivers nicely, especially on burners “Metal Ships” and “Got No Fear.”
Featured release: 1988 – Egypt
Forming near the tail end of the movement, Elixir were strangely overlooked by labels for a good chunk of their existence and opted to release their own material. The A-side and title track of their 1985 7”, “Treachery (Ride Like the Wind),” would become their most enduring song, and would be re-recorded for the following year’s similarly self-released The Son of Odin. Without putting too fine a point on it, The Son of Odin might – might – just be the best album in this entire feature, truly a crown jewel from the driving one-two punch that kicks off the proceedings all the way through its breathtaking closer, “Son of Odin.” And from there, things would … well, maybe not go entirely according to plan.
1990’s Lethal Potion would find the band beset by label pressure (maybe self-releasing wasn’t the worst fate after all), and the version of the album released can only be considered a disappointment. It does have a few songs worth the time, though, and the 2004 Sovereign Remedy CD would improve things significantly via some key changes – including the songs in their intended running order, restoring the original mix and also including some other songs from the recording session omitted from the original release. While the album benefits greatly from these changes, it’s still several rungs down the ladder from its predecessor.
Featured releases: 1985 – Treachery 7”, 1986 – The Son of Odin, 1990 – Lethal Potion
In a way, Yorkshire’s Excalibur (and there have been a few over the years sharing the name) feel more out-of-time than most of the other bands here. Not in a bad way, mind you. 1985’s The Bitter End, their first EP, is a particularly strong and slept-on release that sounds like it could’ve come out a few years earlier. In particular closing track “Haunted By the Shadows” is a standout. The band would record a BBC session the following year, featuring one off the EP as well as three new songs. After a few years without any new material surfacing, the BBC session would be released as an EP under the title Hot For Love, taking its name from the least-best of the three new songs. Fortunately, both of the other ones (“Death’s Door” and standout “Early in the Morning”) would make the cut for 1990’s One Strange Night, the band’s sole full-length. And if the ’85 EP felt like it could have come out in ’82 or ’83, their album felt like it could’ve come out in ’85. Again, not in a bad way, and the bulk of the album more than makes the mark.
Featured releases: 1985 – The Bitter End EP, 1988 – Hot For Love EP, 1990 – One Strange Night
On Exocet’s sole release, A-side “Stalemate” has a nice spring in its step and comes off quite nicely, while more ambitious B-side “The Raven” winds its way through some disparate sections, taking the scenic route to a satisfying conclusion. Frontman Steven Slater would later sing on Slander’s Careless Talk Costs Lives, a fantastic album just one year too late for the scope of this feature.
Featured Release: 1986 – Stalemate 12”
Originally envisioned as a solo project by ex-Black Rose/Holland/Hammer guitarist Kenny Nicholson, the material that eventually found release and a full band lineup under the name Fast Kutz would be a logical continuation from Hammer’s heaviest offerings, heading in a more power metal direction with a couple of absolute blistering rippers to be found in their sole release, 1987’s Burnin’. Excelling in those fastest stretches, Burnin’ also offers a surprising amount of well-done, groovier midtempo moments. (Think Burn to My Touch, not, well … you know.) Reportedly a second album was recorded the following year, though Ebony Records withdrew their support before it could be released. Maybe someday…
Featured release: 1987 – Burnin’
Full Moon’s first 7” could be seen as a premonition of both albums to follow. While A-side “Nemesis” features a mix of prog rock, psych and epic metal that might sound like a jumble on paper, it works flawlessly both here and on their 1989 self-titled debut. B-side “The Eternal Now,” on the other hand, offers up a mellow, spaced out atmospheric slice of prog rock that the band would embrace more on their second album, 1992’s Euphoria (which would include a re-recording of “The Eternal Now”). Following the single, their self-titled debut would find the band dialing back the prog rock tendencies a bit, and the material remains their heaviest. Even three decades after its release it remains a singular album stylistically. There’s an ethereal other-worldliness to it and the songwriting is top notch across the board, whether it’s the punchier anthems like “Highlander” or more expansive fare like the phenomenal closer “Beltaine Fires.” A little over half the album made the cut for the following year’s enjoyable self-released live album A Live Encounter, joined by three songs that would be featured on the album to follow and represent the strongest stylistic link between the two.
Featured releases: 1987 – Nemesis 7”, 1989 – s/t, 1990 – A Live Encounter
With Grim Reaper’s formula already getting a bit stale before the end of 1984’s See You in Hell (maybe not the best sign on a debut album), the following year’s Fear No Evil would – shockingly – offer up more of the same. Stock songwriting, basic riffs, huge choruses … you know the drill. Once again, the album pretty much comes down to the capabilities of singer Steve Grimmett, and fortunately he’d improved since the debut was recorded. Even so, the sense of deja vu is pretty strong, but to the band’s credit, when it works, it works really well. When it doesn’t, though, the repetition and similarity makes the songs seem worse than they are. Album sales would be strong, and the band were able to establish a bigger presence overseas than most of their contemporaries. Splitting from Ebony Records entirely for 1987’s swan song Rock You to Hell, the production budget had clearly gone up even if the band’s songwriting ambitions hadn’t. With the commercial sheen not really hampering the album (or at least not any more than the handful of misfires aiming for that side of the fence), if nothing else again Grimmett stepped things up and there are a handful of songs that distinguish themselves. The band would split while recording a fourth album, which presumably would’ve been called Rock Fears No Hell. You can probably already imagine the main riff.
Featured releases: 1985 – Fear No Evil, 1987 – Rock You to Hell
Previously known as Holland, post-name change the band incorporated a wider range of styles than before, with that moniker’s radio-friendly hard rocking Leppard-y slant rubbing up against material spanning from Priest-if-they’d-incorporated-keyboards-earlier, Thin Lizzy, Maiden-like epics and almost everything in between. In a way, if it wasn’t for the vocals the album would almost comes off more like a various artists compilation … although singer Martin Wilkinson was more than capable of matching the band’s variances, nailing Phil Lynott’s effortless cool one minute and belting out some Robert Plant-ian ad-libs on the more Aerosmith/Whitesnake-oriented moments. It’s a damn strong release, with a couple standout tracks in particular (the title track, “Prayer of a Soldier” and especially “Across the Line”) elevating it.
Featured release: 1985 – Contract With Hell
With Mausoleum Records’ bankruptcy putting a halt to what would have been Hell’s first album, the band soldiered for one final demo, 1986’s Plague and Fire. With the closing title track re-recorded from their earlier wealth of material, in this form it still stands as one of the band’s very best. Opener “Land of the Living Dead” offered a more straightforward song than usual from the gleefully twisted band, though no less strong. If anything, it’s a big mark in their favor that songs like this (and, elsewhere, “The Quest”) work so well even without the mischievous twists and turns found in the bulk of their catalog. Rounding out the demo is the starkly different “Depths of Despair,” a mournful ballad that builds quite nicely over its course and serves as further testament to the strength of the band’s main songwriters. It’s also a bit more ominous than it could be, given what transpired afterwards. Distraught over what he perceived as the band’s failure, frontman Dave Halliday would commit suicide in 1987, putting an end to the band until a surprising reunion took place at the behest of longtime fan Andy Sneap, who’s own band Sabbat were never shy about admitting the sizable debt they owed Hell … but are a bit out-of-scope for this particular feature, even on the especially Hell-ish “Blood For the Blood God” flexi.
Featured release: 1986 – Plague and Fire demo
On the one hand, sure, presumably Maiden is by far the most likely constant across everyone who’ll lay eyes on this article. On the other hand, imagine leaving them out of something like this. (And if you find yourself thinking the same thing about omitting Priest, Sabbath, and/or Motörhead, take a few moments to brush up on the NWOBHM as they pre-date it.)
So then, here we are, the inescapable juggernaut. Forgive the brevity to follow, but, well … it’s Maiden. There are multiple actual books about Maiden, some of which are even good. 1985’s Live After Death would be recorded during the band’s exhaustive 1984-1985 World Slavery Tour. The band’s first live album (though there had been EPs preceding it), it remains to this day one of the absolute finest live albums in the genre. Following a much-needed break to recover and recuperate from the previous tour, 1986’s Somewhere in Time would find the band incorporating guitar synths for the first time, as well as a temporary shift in songwriting responsibilities with Bruce Dickinson’s contributions being rejected. 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son would go a step farther, incorporating keyboards beyond just guitar/bass synths, a conceptual storyline, and the most overt progressive leanings in their discography to that point. It would also be the end of an era for the band, as guitarist Adrian Smith would leave during pre-production for 1990’s No Prayer For the Dying. But first there would be one last hurrah in the form of 1989’s Maiden England, a live video recorded during the Seventh Son tour featuring a good chunk of the two albums that followed Live After Death, and more recently re-released in expanded form with some encore songs omitted from the original VHS release.
Featured releases: 1985 – Live After Death, 1986 – Somewhere in Time, 1988 – Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, 1989 – Maiden England
While Karrier’s lone full-length Way Beyond the Night might’ve come out in 1985, with the exception of the handful of more uptempo, driving songs, it points squarely to the previous decade instead. Between some of the more overtly ‘70s-flavored riffing and laid-back feel the majority of the album has, more than anything else it’s reminiscent of the more straightforward material on the first two Legs Diamond albums than anything else. (And that’s not a complaint or dig, believe me.)
Featured release: 1985 – Way Beyond the Night
Continuing on from Wolf (not the Edge of the World one), Kruizer offer up a similarly straightforward, rough-around-the-edges approach on their second demo, 1985’s Suicide. Even with the bass taking a much more prominent role both sonically and compositionally, the harder material still stacks up nicely against Crucifixion, and a couple of more ambitious moments are carried off nicely. It’s a solid demo, and well-paired on an anthology with the previous Wolf material.
Featured release: 1985 – Suicide demo
Coming across like three-quarters Defenders of the Faith, one-quarter Future World (Pretty Maids, not Helloween), Marshall Law’s self-titled debut wastes little time before exploding into “Under the Hammer,” as good of a Priest rip as you’ll find this side of Tyran’ Pace’s “Shockwaves.” Far and away at its best when the band is in kill mode, to the band’s credit even the more arena-ready moments work well enough. While it’s hard to top the opener, mid-album pairing “Hearts and Thunder” and “Screaming” get pretty close.
Featured release: 1989 – Marshall Law
On just about any other release a song like “Back With a Vengeance” would tower above the rest. Here on Masque’s sole EP, 1989’s The Dead of Night, however, it comes up just short against “No Light to Die By,” testament to how strong the band’s songwriting was. Opting for a strain of power metal somewhat uncommon in the U.K. at the time, US power metal fans will find a lot to love here, from the top-notch material to Jo Phipps’ phenomenal vocal performance. One of the best releases to be found in this entire feature, highly recommended.
Featured release: 1989 – The Dead of Night EP
On their sole EP, 1989’s self-released Unleash the Beast, Nemesis offer up a hard hitting, self-assured group of songs, with a strong grasp on dynamics and some neat twists and turns to be found. Each side-opener stands out, but the entire EP is worthwhile.
Featured release: 1989 – Unleash the Beast EP
The continuation of progressive stalwarts Apocalypse, Omega’s lone album towers over many of its contemporaries … well, most of it does, anyway. There’s a scope to most of the songs that rivals the multi-part epics throughout Diamond Head’s debut (alternately, think of The Son of Odin with a few more equivalents of its title track), and fortunately the execution matches the ambition. At its best, the album generates an impressively thick atmosphere of dread and darkness hanging over the proceedings, navigating some lengthy compositions with twists and turns with a deft grasp of dynamics that makes them feel a lot shorter than they actually are. At its least-best … well, the middle of the B-side sticks out a bit with decent but lightweight “Drive Me Crazy” and Beatles cover “Day Tripper” feeling like they dropped in from a completely different album. Fortunately closer “The Child” finds the band back in the territory that made the A-side such a treat, and even with the two curveballs near the end, the album comes highly, highly recommended.
Featured release: 1985 – The Prophet
Following Satan’s 1987 full-length Suspended Sentence, the band would again change their name, this time to Pariah. Regardless of moniker, if the band had started leaning into power/thrash previously, they really went for it on 1988’s The Kindred. And if the sole Blind Fury album was an example of how the band could thrive in more palatable, commercial territory, The Kindred was an example of them pulling off the complete opposite change with aplomb. Singer Michael Jackson (yeah, yeah) turns in a far harsher performance than on any other release with the group under any moniker, and the level of aggression across the board is staggering. The emphasis throughout on more intricate riffs and leads makes it a bit of an outlier in the discography as a whole, and they’d dial that sort of thing back a bit (along with the vocal approach) for the following year’s Blaze of Obscurity. Striking a nice balance between Suspended Sentence and The Kindred, the then-final Pariah album would serve as a nice summation of the era for the band, as plans for a follow-up would take a while to materialize owing to the success several members found in the interim with Skyclad.
Featured releases: 1988 – The Kindred, 1989 – Blaze of Obscurity
After a few 7”s and compilation appearances highlighting some brilliant material, Persian Risk lost lead guitarist Phil Campbell to Motorhead (not a bad career move, honestly). While the band took a turn towards more commercial waters following the lineup change, thankfully it wasn’t as severe as some of their contemporaries, and even more thankfully frontman Carl Sentance’s pipes were up to the challenge. A full-length, Rise Up, would be recorded in 1985 (and ultimately released by a different label the following year), with two-thirds of the songs from 1984’s Too Different EP making the cut. Fortunately that includes Campbell-era holdover “Dark Tower,” a mini-epic that stacks up nicely against any of their earlier recordings, and the handful of songs that probably wouldn’t have flown in the band’s early days are offset by a fair amount of keepers.
Featured release: 1986 – Rise Up
Phasslayne’s sole full-length had a few things working against it. In addition to the unremarkable artwork and shoddy production job, it understandably got a bit lost among the classics also to be found amidst Neat Records’ 1985 roster. Some of the album (“Run to Guns” and “Minute Man” especially) deserved better, and somehow the low budget, murky production manages to both help and hurt the album, with the faster material benefiting somewhat and the more arena-flavored moments getting kneecapped. Regardless of which side of the band you prefer, just pretend the Elvis cover isn’t on there.
Featured release: 1985 – Cut it Up
To some degree in this solely on a technicality, almost everyone’s favorite M-A omission had a relatively quiet stretch following their first album, 1981’s Time Tells No Lies. Some Japanese concerts in 1990 would result in Live at Last appearing later that year, and with Paul Di’Anno and Dennis Stratton accompanying the band for the tour perhaps it’s no surprise that almost half of the live album’s tracklist would be sourced from Iron Maiden’s self-titled debut. Before long, the band (with Stratton still onboard for a while) would return to the studio and have since released nine full-lengths, beginning with 1991’s Predator in Disguise.
Featured release: 1990 – Live at Last
One of several bands to share the moniker, this particular Predator managed one self-released 7”, 1985’s Don’t Stop. The A-side title track offers up reasonably well done albeit by-the-numbers (and more than a little AOR-leaning) stuff, while heavier B-side “Shotdown” is by far the main draw, packing a nice punch and closing the release off on a high note.
Featured release: 1985 – Don’t Stop 7”
Held back a bit by production executed about as well as the cover art (albeit minus the artwork’s charm), Preyer’s sole offering Terminator should hit the mark with fans of both Hexx’s Under the Spell and Priest and Accept’s most bludgeoning mid-tempo material. While the vocals can be somewhat of an acquired taste, the album still manages to pack quite a punch, no small feat given the sonic handicap working against it. Unable to capitalize on the album’s reception, the band would record a couple more demos in quick succession, but no second album would be forthcoming and they would soon split up, with drummer Phil John going on to Talan.
Featured release: 1986 – Terminator
Three years after their first now-more-than-a-bit-prohibitively-expensive 7”, Prowler reemerged with a second 7”, Alcatraz, similarly self-released but a bit easier to track down nowadays. A bit more polished in terms of delivery and especially vocals, both songs are well-written and should hit the mark for fans of early USPM.
Featured release: 1985 – Alcatraz 7”
With two major label full-lengths under their belts that were a bit at odds with the blistering, raw material that had made their Neat Records releases such standouts, fortunately Raven were soon able to pull themselves out of freefall (unlike some of their contemporaries, who if anything steered even more into it as time went on.) While 1986’s The Pack is Back might be the band’s absolute nadir, the same year’s Mad EP, primarily comprised of leftovers from the sessions, stood head and shoulders above. With the more commercial material slotted into the album proper, Mad was a nice reminder of what the band had been only a few years prior. The following year’s Life’s a Bitch would continue the upward trajectory, bringing back even more of the feel they’d all but abandoned once they jumped to a major. It would be the last with longtime drummer Rob Hunter, and his replacement Joe Hasselvander would fit in quite nicely on the following year’s Nothing Exceeds Like Excess, where the band threw a ton of different stuff against the wall and a surprising amount stuck. The return to form would continue, albeit one year past the cutoff for this, and the band remain a shockingly energetic live proposition to this very day.
Featured releases: 1986 – Mad EP, 1987 – Life’s a Bitch, 1988 – Nothing Exceeds Like Excess
Slightly out of scope for this on their first two albums (1985’s Behind the Realms of Madness and 1987’s Within the Prophecy, both highly recommended regardless), Sacrilege’s third album makes the cut thanks to the surprising genre jump from crusty thrash to full-on doom metal. While a slightly unorthodox production courtesy of guitarist and main songwriter Damien Thompson makes it feel like everything is wrapped in a warm blanket of mud, the strength of the songwriting still manages to shine through the mix. With the spectres of Trouble, Candlemass, and prog rock looming large throughout the lengthy compositions, hints here and there of the band’s past keep the extended instrumental sections lively. Singer Lynda “Tam” Simpson ditches the harsh approach she’d used in the past for a more fitting, cleaner vocal style that works well (and would’ve completely flopped on anything they’d done previously). The band would split soon after its release, reuniting almost two and a half decades later.
Featured release: 1989 – Turn Back Trilobite
Not the same Samurai as the one featured on the immortal Roxsnax split compilation, the Welsh band with the same name were an Ebony signing who managed to distinguish themselves with their debut album, 1984’s Sacred Blade. Coming off like Grim Reaper with Savage’s bursting-at-the-seams energy (one hell of a combo), 1986’s follow-up Weapon Master would maintain that approach at times while dipping a foot into more commercial waters at others. The end result? A competent, reasonably well-done album with a few standout moments, but one that stands squarely in its predecessor’s sizable shadow.
Featured release: 1986 – Weapon Master
Following the sole release under the Blind Fury moniker, Satan would part ways with singer Lou Taylor, taking on singer Michael Jackson as his replacement. The band would head into the studio in 1986 to record a demo, and the ensuing Dirt Demo was so well-received by Steamhammer Records they opted to release it as an EP under the title Into the Future. On the heels of the Blind Fury release, blistering opener “Key to Oblivion” felt like the equivalent of the band screaming “We’re back,” with everything that made Court in the Act such a success on fine display throughout and Jackson’s grittier vocal approach fitting in nicely. The following year’s full-length Suspended Sentence leans a bit towards power/thrash at times, and the songwriting embraces a more expansive approach than on any of their other releases (barring the occasional song here and there) to great effect. This era of the band has gotten quite overlooked in recent times, thanks in no small part to the triumphant – and ongoing – reunion with Brian Ross and ensuing albums and tours. At the time, however, another name change was on the horizon.
Featured releases: 1986 – Dirt demo/Into the Future EP, 1987 – Suspended Sentence
Juuuuuust a bit mellower than the name might suggest, at least you can’t accuse Satanic Rites of adopting a lyrical bent similarly in line with the name and at odds with the material the way, say, Demon or (the NWOBHM) Incubus had done previously. Instead, even “Burn in Hell” stands pretty resolutely apart from the name lyrically, and the band’s 1985 debut album Which Way the Wind Blows offers up an accomplished, catchy album veering between hooky, “standard” heavy metal and the more atmospheric side of things, where the keyboards come more to the fore. It’s well done across the board with a fair amount of highlights throughout, including opener “Burn in Hell,” “Slam the Door” and the closing title track in particular. Their 1987 follow-up, No Use Crying, would be a bit more of a mixed bag, where a couple of blatantly AOR numbers bring down the proceedings a fair amount. Still, there are enough songs that hit the mark to justify its inclusion here, but it’d be a lie to pretend like it couldn’t have benefited from more in the vein of “Never So Easy” and “Cast My Spell,” rather than the radio-friendly fare strewn throughout.
Featured releases: 1985 – Which Way the Wind Blows, 1987 – No Use Crying
Featuring a lineup of guards and convicts at Wormwood Scrubs Prison, The Scrubs would manage two 7”s during their run. 1986’s Battle offers up a clunky, homespun take on epic metal for the A-side title track that carries a unique, weird charm to it. It’s also the B-side, albeit in altered form. “Battle (Narrative)” opens with a foreboding synth and narrative combo along the lines of “Medieval Steel” … if the “Medieval Steel” intro extended throughout a big chunk of the song. Unfortunately, by the time the song finally kicks into gear it’s almost over. Anticlimactic, to say the least, though the A-side more than makes up for any shortcomings. Unfortunately, their follow-up 7”, 1987’s Time For You lacked any such mitigating factor, with a competent but unremarkable hard rocker as the A-side title track and, once again, “Battle (Narrative)” as the B-side. Presumably they got to catch Ozzy’s performance at the same prison that year, so at least there’s that.
Featured release: 1986 – Battle 7”
Opting for a more sedate, keyboard-oriented approach to things, Sherwood’s lone release pulls off the style quite well, and fans of Saracen and Praying Mantis will find themselves right at home with 1986’s Riding the Rainbow. Classy and dynamic, it’s a nice change of pace with some strong songwriting, equally true for the four extra songs unearthed for its recent reissue.
Featured release: 1986 – Riding the Rainbow EP
Kicking things off with the straightforward ripper “Undo the Chains,” Shocksplit’s sole EP, 1989’s Under Wraps just as quickly takes a detour towards more ambitious material, with the remaining three songs all featuring more diverse (but no less effective) songwriting. There’s a youthful exuberance to three of the four, while the exception (“Take Me in Heat”) is a surprisingly well-done half-ballad, set nicely against its surroundings.
Featured release: 1989 – Under Wraps EP
Not *that* Siege, this one were a short-lived, female-fronted band who managed to release one single during their time together. A-side “Goddess of Fire” nails the requisite gallop and mystical feel to make it a keeper, while B-side “Don’t Punish Me,” though competent, can’t help but fail to measure up.
Featured release: 1985 – Goddess of Fire 7”
With former members of Stormqueen, Preyer, and Samurai in the ranks, Talan opted for a more ethereal, soaring power metal direction than any of their previous bands. The Spellbinder 7” features a stunning A-side title track, and B-side is only lacking when compared to the flip side. Fans of Elixir and mid-to-late ‘80s Cloven Hoof will find a lot to like here (ell, in terms of quality, anyway. Amount of material, less so.)
Featured release: 1990 – Spellbinder 7”
(There are a few drawbacks to doing this article alphabetically, and here’s one of them. Skip down a bit, read the Tröjan section, and then come back up.) After Tröjan’s demise, most of the band’s final lineup would reform as Taliön and continue on with a slightly thrashier take on the kind of thing that made their previous band such a standout. A bit more ambitious in some ways, Talion’s sole album comes up a tiny bit short against Chasing the Storm (as do a ton of other albums, to be fair), but it’s pretty damn close and more than a respectable effort. Fans of one should definitely enjoy the other.
Featured release: 1989 – Killing the World
Dropped by their label in 1985 after Honour and Blood failed to perform nearly as well commercially as This Means War, Tank would spend the following year recording a follow-up while waiting for another record label deal. Their self-titled album would surface in 1987 on GWR, and if Honour and Blood felt like a remake of This Means War, well, this one doesn’t deviate from that approach either. For the third album in a row, the synth-intro-into-a-monstrous-extended-opener gambit works flawlessly on “Reign of Thunder,” and “March On, Sons of Nippon” continues the winning streak. Past that, the album gets a little patchy here and there – in particular “Lost” finds the whole band mellowing out far more than you want them to – but the album closes almost as strong as it opens with “(The Hell They Must) Suffer” and the Challenger tribute “It Fell From the Sky.” The band would split soon after, before reforming in the late ‘90s for some shows and the solid Still at War album in 2002. After that … well … you know what, let’s not get into it.
Featured release: 1987 – Tank
After a slew of releases in 1983 and 1984, 1985 would be no different for Tokyo Blade. While the previous year’s full-length Night of the Blade would begin to steer the band in a more commercial direction at times, fortunately some of the ’85 releases would buck that trend. The Madame Guillotine EP’s contents vary from pressing to pressing, but the common thread across all is the title track and “Break Out,” two exclusive rippers, and each a shining example of what made their early work so enticing. (Other than those two, you’re getting some songs carried over from the Midnight Rendezvous EP, the Lightning Strikes EP or Night of the Blade.) An official bootleg EP of pre-album demos, The Cave Sessions would better illustrate the band’s split personality, where the moody “Shadows of Insanity” and uptempo “Monkey’s Blood” stand in stark contrast to the glammy frivolity of “Jezzabell” and “School House is Burning.” Only “Monkey’s Blood” would be re-recorded for the full-length that would round out 1985, Blackhearts & Jaded Spades, where it would be a very lone bright spot. The band would continue farther and farther down a regrettable path for a while, though to be fair things would right themselves this side of the millennium.
Featured releases: 1985 – Madame Guillotine EP, The Cave Sessions EP
While there seems to be some debate over whether the band’s lone release Devil Takes the High Road came out in 1984 or 1985, there’s far less debate over the mythic stature of its title track, a monumental song held in the highest regard by damn near anyone who’s heard it. Less deified would be the other two-thirds of the EP, with “Love After Midnight” serving as the “Shadows are Falling” to the title track’s “The Beast,” while finale “Shoot to Kill” thankfully closes the gap between the two a bit. Worth it for the title track alone.
Featured release: 1984/5 – Devil Takes the High Road EP
Formed by two-thirds of Budgie’s first lineup, Tredegar would instead offer up a much classier, more epic (and, admittedly, less heavy) form of metal. Still, the songwriting on their sole album is top-notch, and arguably peaking with the especially strong stretch of songs from “Way of the Warrior” through “The Jester.” Persian Risk frontman Carl Sentance turns in a stellar vocal performance, minus “Which Way to Go” (which also has strong vocals, albeit from soon-to-be Cloven Hoof singer Russ North instead of Sentance). Despite a warm reception at the time, the band would struggle to record a second album, and a remixed version of the self-titled debut would appear a few years later, also containing on an extra song, an adaptation of the classical piece “Sabre Dance.”
Featured release: 1986 – Tredegar
With most of Chasing the Storm having been demoed previously, Tröjan’s sole full-length bursts out of the gate with confidence. The album comes off like a less Maiden-obsessed sibling to Savage Grace’s legendary Master of Disguise, matching both the bursting-at-the-seams energy level as well as the paper-thin sound. In lieu of SG’s Maiden rearranging, fans of early Riot will find a lot to like here, especially if you ever wished Fire Down Under had another burner or five. Unfortunately the band would split before recording a planned second album, although if you went alphabetically through this you already know what happened next (see: Talion).
Featured release: 1985 – Chasing the Storm
When plans to release a 7” in 1985 fell through, Truffle would instead record some extra songs and turn the release into a tape-only full-length. While uptempo early Maiden-like opener “God of War” starts things off in fine fashion, it’s also not exactly representative of the rest of the release, where the band bring keyboards more to the forefront and explore more atmosphere-reliant, drawn out territory with the occasional drift into hard rock. Mean galloper “Street Fighter” hits the mark nicely, though, and the releases closes strongly.
Featured release: 1986 – The Bacon Slicer Strikes Back
Another mid-’80s Ebony signing hampered a bit by a non-existent recording budget (see also: Fast Kutz, Preyer, Cobra, etc.), in spite of the recording limitations Tyga Myra offered up a well-done mix of styles, and their lone album shifts into faster or more powerful territory with ease. There are some moments where the vocals aren’t quite up to the task, but it’s forgivable in light of the strength of the band’s songwriting. especially on songs like “Dead Zone” and opener “Deliverance (Last Rites)” and “Rodeo.”
Featured release: 1986 – Deliverance
After 1984’s strong debut Beware of the Dog, the following year’s inventively-titled Four Track EP would offer up a reworking of previous standout “Hammerhead” along with three new and exclusive songs, all decent enough but none quite measuring up to “Hammerhead.” 1986’s full-length Crimes of Insanity would fare a bit better, as the band put together a strong set of originals (emphasis on originals, as the Alice Cooper cover is a lone blemish). Bulldozing their way through the bulk of the album, the uptempo material shines the brightest and it features the kind of balance (not to mention production) you wish Avenger’s second album had.
Featured releases: 1985 – Four Track EP, 1986 – Crimes of Insanity
Kicking off an incredibly busy 1985 with their fourth full-length, Possessed would be penalized a bit harshly for not living up to its monumental predecessors. While it’s true the album doesn’t hit anywhere near the same heights, it’s also not the unmitigated disaster some make it out to be. Never a band to be accused of holding back on releases, depending on which version of the Nightmare single you have you either get the title track as a non-album exclusive (which would’ve fit just fine on Possessed, especially as a swap for one of the handful of outright filler songs), or you also get the bonus of “F.O.A.D.,” relegated to the B-side for the obvious reason. December’s Hell at Hammersmith EP offered up a tantalizing excerpt from the band’s Hammersmith Odeon show a few months prior, more of which would be released the following year as the first half of the Eine Kliene Nachtmusik double LP. Tacking on a second album of songs recorded at the band’s 1986 New York shows, for a long time it remained the best “official” long-form live release. (The same year’s Official Live Bootleg … significantly less so.) The half-dozen or so collector-bait <Country> Assault EPs offered up some rare studio songs mixed with live tracks, and given the amount of compilations, best-ofs and vault purges that have appeared over the years your mileage may vary on chasing those down.
Near the beginning of 1986, the original lineup would set out to record a fourth album under the working title Deadline, but was abandoned when the band splintered apart. A bootleg of the session would appear, and it’s worth tracking down if you like Possessed (the album, not … you know, the band.) With guitarist Mantas making his exit, a short-lived four-piece version of the band would record 1987’s Calm Before the Storm, and you know what let’s just move on to the band’s first reformation, when Mantas and Abaddon were joined by rhythm guitarist Al Barnes and ex-Atomkraft frontman Tony Dolan. 1989’s ensuing Prime Evil was a nice rebound from Calm Before the Storm, and arguably the band’s strongest album outside of their initial trilogy. It has a rejuvenated feel compared to its two predecessors, and some ambitious songwriting more than offsets the couple of not-so-great songs. That particular lineup would record a solid follow-up in 1991, but we’re cutting this off at 1990 (when the band definitely didn’t release an outtake/live purge EP) so …
Featured releases: 1985 – Possessed, Hell at Hammersmith EP, Nightmare EP, 1986 – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Deadline (bootleg), 1988 – Prime Evil
Near the bottom alphabetically, but certainly at the top in terms of more important characteristics like quality, reputation and number of bootleg patches spotted at Keep it True. For a band who only recorded five songs during their existence, Virtue are fondly remembered as any number of bands who came out of the movement with more sizable discographies. 1985’s self-released We Stand to Fight 7” kicks off with the title track, an infectious Maidenesque rip through the kind of harmonized leads and indelible hooks that justify a fair amount of the single’s exorbitant price. Somewhat overlooked by comparison B-side “High Treason” might be even better, dialing back the harmonies a bit but featuring a darker vibe, killer main riff, and some effective mood changes in the last third of the song. The following year the band recorded a three-song EP, Fool’s Gold, but plans to release it on a local label fell through and it would be circulated instead as a demo tape. The three songs pick up where the 7” left off, cementing the band’s legacy as one of the finest from the time and place to not make it to the album stage. “Hideaway” and the title track in particular stack up nicely against the 7” songs, and the other (“Search and Destroy”) isn’t far behind. Thankfully compiled on an anthology by No Remorse Records in 2013, it’s about time for a repress of that one, eh lads?
Featured releases: 1985 – We Stand to Fight 7”, 1986 – Fool’s Gold demo
One of Neat Records’ more overlooked signings, War Machine offered up a damn fine album that’s a bit removed from what might be expected of a band whose guitarist did time with Atomkraft and Venom. Instead, Unknown Soldier features an infectious mix of power metal, straightforward heavy metal, and bits and pieces of thrash, not entirely unlike a midpoint between Blind Fury and mid-to-late ‘80s Satan, even down to the guitar heroics. Singer Bernadette Mooney’s vocals are a fair bit similar to Tam Simpson’s performance on Turn Back Trilobite a few years later, and while Unknown Soldier never approaches the doomier moments of that particular album, there are some similarities in terms of atmosphere. There’s a dour, almost haunted feel that runs through a fair amount of the album (and it’s not just the muted production), which complements the A-side material nicely. The B-side feels a bit hit-and-miss comparatively, though none of the album comes anywhere close to qualifying as bad or even lackluster.
Featured release: 1986 – Unknown Soldier
For the first chunk of their discography, speed merchants Warfare (led by ex-Angelic Upstarts member Evo on vocals and drums) were a strong case of goods-exactly-as-advertised. If the artwork and titles didn’t drive the point home enough, one mere look at the producers for their first three albums – the unholy trinity of Algy, Lemmy and Cronos – should do the trick. And indeed, their raucous punk/metal hybrid falling somewhere between Filth Hounds of Hades and Black Metal would go over quite well, earning the band a sizable following. Their first release of 1985 would be the Total Death EP, containing the title track of their forthcoming album Metal Anarchy as well as a handful of songs left over from the recording sessions for the previous year’s debut, the aptly named Pure Filth. By year’s end Metal Anarchy would be released, and it was exactly the kind of continuation you’d hope for. (Assuming Pure Filth hadn’t sent you running for the hills, of course.)
Despite some lineup changes, Mayhem Fuckin’ Mayhem would appear the following summer, with producer Cronos helping out on bass as well as co-fronting a suitably out of control cover of “You Really Got Me.” At this point the band was three for three on full-lengths but opted for the unexpected step of branching out stylistically. On the surface it’d seem like a mistake, but you could argue there was a strain of more ambitious songwriting going all the way back to Pure Filth’s “Dance of the Dead,” and that approach really came to the forefront on 1988’s A Conflict of Hatred. While the album still contains a few absolute rippers, the bulk of it carries the same sort of maturation as, say, Tank’s This Means War. Much like with that particular Tank album, you can make equally strong cases for it or the wilder beginnings being the bands at their best. For Warfare, though, the balance would tip a bit too far on their following album.
Featured releases: 1985 – Total Death EP, Metal Anarchy, 1986 – Mayhem Fuckin’ Mayhem, 1988 – A Conflict of Hatred
Sporting both a band name and album title both completely at odds with the unexpectedly classy blend of power and speed metal found between its grooves, Wild Pussy’s long-overdue-for-a-reissue EP Mechanarchy offers up one hell of a surprise in terms of content. Fans of grittier USPM and German speed metal in particular are encouraged to dive on in, as the EP is packed with aggressive vocals, memorable compositions and killer lead playing.
Featured release: 1988 – Mechanarchy EP
On Zenith’s sole 7”, all three songs are solid, and the morose, downcast vibe throughout puts it more in line with a fair amount of old Swedish 7”s rather than the more expected NWOBHM predecessors. Recently reissued via an anthology also featuring the band’s previous ten song demo.
Featured release: 1986 – Heavy Heart 7”