Most people probably don’t think of Bulgaria in the ‘80s as a particular hub of heavy metal. If they think about epic heavy metal, they almost definitely don’t. In fact, the metal-archives only has eleven releases marked for the entire ‘80s as being Bulgarian, with several being from the same bands. In spite of this, two of those releases feature some of the ‘80s best epic metal; neither of those take the same form as bands like Manowar or Manilla Road, but is something more mystical, with a heavy focus on repetition to create atmosphere and driving vocal lines. These bands are Trotyl and Dr. Doolittle, with the releases respectively being Lunatic and Every Man Needs A Woman.
Trotyl – Lunatic
The A-side, “Lunatic”, is a very traditional and riff-driven track that, curiously enough, has a different singer entirely than the B-side. There’s a sense of the dramatic here, and the riffing seems influenced by the darker underbelly of the NWOBHM. The singer on this one is reminds me a lot of Accept’s Udo. Though some of the lead guitar choices are noticeably the same guys, it’s not the A-side that will get you buying Lunatic.
The B-side on the other hand is an exercise in the epic; the song, titled “Warrior,” is much more introspective, doom influenced, and mostly focuses around a single slower progression that develops throughout the song, accented by occasional synths. This piece stretches that single progression through nearly the entire duration of the track, broken only a fantastic solo section in the center; however, such is the strength of the riff driving in that it works perfectly, never becoming boring. The singer on this half is a charismatic baritone who croons over the driving riff with a rough splendor that really sells the song’s motif of a depressed, suicidal warrior. His English isn’t perfect, but it works, and the restrained drumming and production on this 7” come together to make “Warrior” one of my favorite epic songs of the ‘80s.
Dr. Doolittle – Every Man Needs A Woman
As you may have guessed already from the band’s name and the release title, Dr. Doolittle was not actually an epic metal band. Even calling them a metal band might be a stretch; they were really a particularly not-too-good glam outfit, and that was most of their focus. The A-side of this single, and the one that it’s named for, is in that vein. It is absolutely awful and that’s not what I want to talk about here.
“Labyrinth,” the song on the B-side, is one of the finest epic heavy / doom songs that I’ve ever heard, and this is not an exaggeration. Perhaps it won’t click with you as it has for me, but ever since I first heard it, I’ve had this 7” on my turntable on repeat, and I don’t see any signs of slowing down even after what must be dozens of listens. In contrast to Trotyl, this is a far more upbeat track, and though it also focuses on a single repeating progression, there’s a good bit more contrast.
The song is composed into four main sections, starting with an incredible epic riff that reminds me a bit of the approach on the slowest Chastain songs (think “Children of Eden”). The singer is certainly no Leather Leone, but he serves well enough as a bit of a strained tenor singing his heart out over the music and suiting it quite well. Drums that are a bit clunky in the way that many lower-budget ‘80s demos had push the heavy main riff into an unexpected bit of speed metal partway through the track, which then turns into a long solo section that beautifully transitions back into spellbinding doom. Though it’s hardly a special accomplishment in songwriting, the effect is contagious, and I can’t recommend listening to it enough.