- 1 Introduction
- 2 The Former Gran Colombia
- 3 The Central Andean Region
- 4 The Southern Cone
- 5 Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean
An unexpected wealth of rock bands formed all around Latin America during the 70s, laying potential blueprints for Heavy Metal in the early 80s. Nowadays, every country has seen an explosion of bands, but back then things were a lot harder to come by. These early Metal artists pioneered not only a sound in their respective countries, but a true counterculture as well. However blue-collar and socially outcast Metal’s origins were, the genre was a product of the wealthiest and most prosperous societies on Earth (Western Europe and the USA). Meanwhile, the fans and musicians of Latin America faced a very different reality.
See, in the region’s nineteen countries, the 80s saw five civil wars (mainly in Central America, one regular war, foreign interventions, and ten military dictatorships (infamous for their brutality), along with high poverty and crime rates.
While significant differences between countries exist, the bottom line for the region is that hundreds of years of colonization, foreign intervention, corruption, racism, etc. resulted in weak governments, segregated societies, poverty, and rampant violence. When you wonder why the region struggles to this day (this 2012 map shows Latin America as the most dangerous region in the world outside of war zones) it may be summed up with this: a legacy of violence and repression.
But on to the main point: this primer examines the early Traditional Metal scene of varied Latin American countries. For places with large outputs, I’m sticking to material released or recorded before 1985. For the more obscure, latecomer scenes, I searched for the earliest bands I could find. Unfortunately, there’s barely a thing to say on most of the bands because it’s really hard to find information. This is a key point – due to poor documentation, a lot of information is sadly lost to time. All of the bands on this list released music in their native tongue – perhaps a factor in their limited exposure to the wider Metal scene.
I can’t say there’s a unifying theme among these artists, but a few of them (in line with Latin America’s Nueva Canción movement), had a political/social theme, and most were seen with disdain and distrust from conservative circles of society. In some cases this resulted in beatings, venue raids, and imprisonment by the police. This is worth stressing again: several of these bands were true voices of a counterculture. Against the repressive hand of the church and murderous forces of the state, their lyrics actually meant something – if only for the few thousand people who stood behind this music.
Note: Read the Quick Listening Guide for a short summary of the best material.
Quick Listening Guide
- Resistencia – Hecho en Venezuela
- Resistencia – Estrategia contra el movimiento
- Arkangel – Arkangel
- Stress – Stress
- V8 – Luchando por el Metal
- Kraken – I
- Luzbel – Metal Caído del Cielo
- Arkangel – Rock Nacional
- Arkangel – Represión Latinoamericana
- Ácido – Ácido EP
- V8 – Un Paso Más en la Batalla
- Bloke – Demolición
- Stress – Flor Atómica
- Trueno Azul – Mario EP
- Serpiente Visión – Serpiente Visión
The Former Gran Colombia
Brazil and Argentina are probably thought of as the hotspots for the nascent Latin American scene, but Venezuela produced many quality bands at the same time. All of the following albums were released by the now defunct label Color. It deserves a mention for having the courage and far-sight to support Heavy Metal at such an early stage.
This band was a thing of beauty – a thing of might. Formed in 1977 (supposedly), they might be the second earliest Heavy Metal band to from in Latin America. Bad production and piss-poor cover design couldn’t cast a shadow on this band’s quality – but while they were respected in their own country, with live concerts and TV showings, they didn’t reach the international success they deserved. To this day, they remain criminally underrated outside of their relative region. Part of what makes this band so fantastic is their quality musicianship and their wide variety of sounds and lyrical themes, while always maintaining the straight-in-your-face, gritty Metal sound. The closest comparisons I can think of are 70s Judas Priest, 70s Rainbow, and maybe early Raven, but Resistencia has a unique sound second to none.
On stage, the band had an energetic presence and looked more like 70s hippies than a Metal band. Their lyrics were quite diverse and sometimes even esoteric, with topics ranging from social protest to Dio-like prose blending history, occultism, and fantasy. Sadly, two crucial band members, Ricardo Escobar (drums) and Rodrigo Yoma (guitars) died several years ago. It’s truly mind-boggling how none of their albums have been reissued in any format since they were released three decades ago.
- Hecho en Venezuela (1981) – I’ve got so many things to say about this album that it’s best for you to listen to it. It’s strongly influenced by 70s Judas Priest and Rainbow, with rough and somewhat operatic vocals, interesting song structures, aggressive and galloping riffs, raw production, tight musicianship, great melodies… I could go on. Truly one of the best albums in the history of Metal (I’m fully aware of the implications of this statement and I stand by it). Essential
- Estrategia Contra el Movimiento (1983) – This album is in the same as above, but a lot more progressive – somewhat Rush-like. Estrategia Contra el Movimiento has a more unique sound with a small infusion of traditional Venezuelan music. The folk elements, perhaps inspired by artists like Alí Primera, blend so well with the Heavy Metal sound that you probably won’t distinguish them. Essential
Starting out in 1978 as the Hard Rock band Power Age, they changed to a more Heavy Metal-oriented sound in 1981 and are still active today, having gone through a few changes through the decades. The only original members still active are the Picozzi brothers on drums and guitar. Nowadays they play something more akin to Power Metal.
- S/t (1981) – Arkangel’s self titled album has strong Hard Rock residue with a raw edge. It’s a great album that fans of Spanish bands like Barón Rojo and Obús are bound to enjoy. Essential
- Rock Nacional (1982) – A testament to how well received heavy music was from the beginning, about half the songs on this album were recorded in front of cheering crowds. Recommended
- Represión Latinoamericana (1983) – The band turned to heavy use of keyboards on this album. It’s a shame that when people think of Latin American anthems, they go for vapid Reageton songs rather than this powerful reflection on the Cold War in Latin America. Recommended
After leaving his vocal duties in Arkangel, Paul Gillman formed his own solo band. A controversial figure, he’s been criticized for siding with the Chavez and Maduro regimes. In 2017, he was banned from playing at Colombia’s renowned Rock en el Parque Festival for his political views. Ironic and tragic how the passionate rebel who condemned the system all those years ago now supports another murderous and repressive regime – changing one authoritarian extreme for another.
- Levántate y Pelea (1984)- The lyrics to opening track “Corazón de Rock Pesado”, dealing with perseverance and the power of metal, are truly inspiring.
Formed in 1980, Grand Bite has been hard at it for four decades fighting along with their brothers in Arkangel to this day. Their style is pretty similar to the rest of their countrymen featuring mid-paced, hard-rock infused songs with passionate vocals front and center.
- Al Borde del Precipicio (1985) is the band’s debut album and their strongest effort. If you’ve enjoyed the bands in this primer so far, then this is bound to be another release you’ll enjoy.
Kraken are not only Colombia’s premiere classic metal band, but they are one of the biggest in all of Latin America. They originally formed in 1984 and immediately gripped the region with their gritty and spirited take on heavy metal.
Scythian’s guitarist, Alex de Moller, wrote this excellent article a couple of years ago touching upon Kraken and the Colombian scene. A primer unto itself, this write-up is an excellent overview of the social and musical situation in Medellín, Colombia during the 80s. There isn’t much to add that hasn’t already been said by Alex here, but Kraken are titanic force in the Latin American scene that are still active to this day.
I want to stress this part from the linked article: “However ‘evil’ the pioneers of Norwegian black metal claimed to be, they were ultimately just middle-class teens lighting fires in a Scandinavian utopia. Their so-called evil paled in comparison with the everyday realities of Colombia, which produced a sound and lyrical approach that couldn’t be faked or imagined.” It’s important for some bands and fans not to get lost with their first-world privileges. Kraken wrote their excellent and inspired brand of heavy metal in the face of sociopolitical struggle.
- I (1987) – Essential
RIP Elkin Ramírez, Kraken’s original vocalist – a tremendous talent.
Also hailing from Medellin, this little known band actually predated Kraken by a few years as one of the very first bands from Colombia. Their first release, a self titled EP, dates from 1983 and they’re still active today having reformed in 2016. This NWOBHM inspired band is nothing outstanding, but they sure as hell don’t slouch either. The vocals in particular are a highlight.
Relative to the rest of Latin America, Ecuador is a quiet country which managed to steer away from major conflicts. However, repression and poverty are still an every day thing in this place.
Spectrum originally formed in 1981 and, after going through a number of different name changes and periods of inactively, are still active today. The band toiled away in their early years and only managed to release a handful of singles in the 80s under the name Spectrum Line. This pair of singles features short, but high-energy tracks filled to the brim with a punk like demeanor reminiscent of Motörhead. They wouldn’t release their debut album, A las puertas del delirio, until 2005, but despite being a good album in its own right, it loses the aggression and grit of their singles.
- Religiones en Conflicto (1985) – Punchy and dirty with a whole lot of attitude. Youtube says this is from 1983, but MA says it’s from 1985. Either way, this punky Tank/Motörhead like single is one of Ecuador’s first contributions to the metal world.
The Central Andean Region
Bolivia is kind of a black sheep in the region – it’s also the only country to have a majority indigenous population and is one of the continent’s poorest nations. However, being the poorest country in South America didn’t stop Metal fans from making a stand way back in the day. I was surprised to find these many bands with such decent output dating all the way back to 1982 – 1986.
Trueno Azul sound like a grittier, Spanish version of Heavy Load with falsetto vocals and lo-fi production. The band’s only output unfortunately was a short 11 minute EP titled Mario in honor of a deceased band member. However, even with such a short and poorly produced release, this is still perhaps the best early release from Bolivia. It’s catchy as hell and definitely one you’ll want to revisit. Recommended
Stratus were a small band formed in 1982. Their only release is a short eight minute, hard rock inspired single titled Sígueme that they put out in 1985. Its vibrant cover is a throwback to the colorful rock album covers of the 60s and 70s. This laid back single won’t change your life, but it’s very fun and there are some pretty sweet bass lines here.
Trilogia are another small band that formed in 1982. The band released a lone self titled demo, but it’s difficult to tell the exact year it was released due to lack of information. Metal archives lists it as 1985, but upload sources on YouTube cite as early as 1983. Either way, this release differentiates itself a bit from the rest of the bands here. Trilogia were a six piece outfit and one of the very few bands to have a full time keyboard player as part of their line up. As a result, the songs feature a constant keyboard accompaniment and we end up with a melodic, Glam-like sound.
Metalmorfosis, relative to some of the bands mentioned, are more aggresive. There’s a bit of a US Power metal type of edge to their sound. Unfortunately, they only released one self titled single in 1986. The band itself is named after the legendary Spanish band Barón Rojo’s album, clearly taking inspiration from the Spanish singing giants. Metalmorfosis also shared a vocalist with Trueno Azul, the band we mention above.
Bolivia’s best friend and more famous neighbor suffers from similar conditions and an ongoing low-intensity conflict. Perú had a pretty unique Psychedelic Rock scene in the 70s which is being rediscovered by the internet in recent years with bands like Tarkus shining as standouts.
You can read about 80s Metal in Perú here. Much like the article mentioned earlier about Colombia, this is another primer unto itself. The article also includes a look at Perú’s respected Extreme Metal bands, Mortem and Hadez. To avoid rehashing and sounding redundant, we’ll only list our favorite band from the region and encourage you to take a look at that fantastic article for a deeper look at the Peruvian metal scene.
Óxido are a high energy, NWOBHM-inspired band that sprung up in Perú in 1982 and remained active until 1985. During their brief initial lifespan as a band, they only released a singular demo in 1983 that’s virtually impossible to track down. The band reformed in 2012 however and re-recorded many of their classic tunes with as much passion as their early days. The embedded YouTube link above is a 2012 re-recording, but Óxido more recently released a full length album in 2018 titled Oxido I that features almost the entirety of their original material re-recorded with a couple of extra songs.
Brazil is a giant that has always been prolific in the metal world. You probably know of the infamous Cogumelo Records bands like Sepultura and Sarcófago and their legacy, but here are the ones that predated them. They all play raw, messy, and lo-fi Traditional/Speed. If the Warfare Noise EPs had a Heavy Metal side to them, several bands from this list could fit the bill.
Formed all the way back in 1977, Stress are one of the oldest metal bands from Latin America. Their early years were not unlike those of Sarcófago in terms of dealing with scarce resources, little support, and general opposition from society.
- S/t (1982) – Stress’s debut album is messy and aggressive; they claim their s/t to be the first true Thrash album, predating Kill ‘Em All by a year. If you can get past the low budget lo-fi approach, you’ll find interesting stuff here. Essential
- Flor Atomica (1985) – Three years after their seminal debut album, Stress released a follow up with Flor Atomica. This album expanded upon the ideas on the debut and displayed a matured band, as a result the execution is tighter and it stands a bit above their self titled. Recommended
Yes that Vulcano! Vulcano are a staple in Brazil’s extreme metal scene, but before they went in that direction they played traditional metal. They released a single EP in this style when they started out before moving in the more extreme direction. Om Pushne Nah isn’t an amazing release, but it isn’t nearly as poor as those on websites like metal archives might lead you to believe. This is an interesting tidbit in both the band’s career and for very early Brazilian metal.
Excalibur are yet another one-demo band (with a rather unoriginal name!). Their lone demo however is over half an hour long and can be taken as a low budget album. The 1984 demo is similar to early NWOBHM bands such as Tygers of Pan Tang and Diamond Head with a little bit of Thin Lizzy thrown in. The art, featuring Merlin of course, is also fantastic for a demo like release.
Originally formed in 1981, Azul Limao released three demos up to 1984, which were later compiled in 2001, before arriving at their 1986 debut album Vinganca. Their sound gradually evolved from laid back, hard rock inspired metal and became more and more aggressive. By the time they arrived at the debut, they were playing aggressive and fast speed metal that brings to mind bands like Agent Steel.
S.P. Metal split (1984)
Material from four bands: Salário Mínimo, Vírus, Centúrias, and Avenger. This is an interesting release early on in Brazil’s metal history. The music varies from mid-paced anthems to upbeat, melodic NWOBHM-like bangers. Two of these bands, Vírus and Avenger, would unfortunately only release material for this split.
Paraguay has always been an interesting country. It’s another black sheep in the region, with a particularly isolated and brutal history even by South American standards.
It’s the “band for savages, who only play Rock & Roll.” Metal Urbano are a pioneering metal band in Paraguay and the country’s first. The earliest Traditional Heavy Metal recording I could find was this latter day compilation including their earliest recordings from 1986.
Here are the liner notes on a tribute concert to the history of Paraguayan Metal.
The Southern Cone
Uruguay is the most stable and liberal country in Latin America. Even so, they were still under military rule and suffered the consequences of US foreign intervention. As a result, bands there shared some similar struggles as their peers.
Ácido is yet another band with disagreement on release dates: Metal Archives has Ácido’s first demo released in 1986, but a youtube video claims it’s from 1983. Regardless of when Ácido’s first effort was released, they are a band that sticks out because of their punk like attitude and memorable riffs.
- Ácido EP (1986) – Dirty and anthemic with a sort of UK 82/Hardcore punk sound. This is one of my favorite discoveries of recent times. Recommended
Note: Crisol is supposedly the first band from the country, and while we want to discuss and share this band with you it is very difficult to find any recordings. They released a lone 7″ that has become a collectors item. In addition to being difficult to find material for this band, that physical 7″ sells for upwards of $150.
Possibly the best documented scene on this list; Argentine fans are well aware of their Metal history. Just like with Venezuela, it’s worth mentioning the label Umbral Discos & Cintas, which released most of the early Argentinian Heavy Metal music from the bands that you’ll read about below.
Riff are the OGs of Argentinian Metal. Founder and vocalist Pappo was a Rock music veteran by the time he formed Riff in 1979, having participated in other bands since the early 70s. Living up to his rocker image, he unfortunately died in a road accident while driving a Harley Davidson in 2005. Riff became a big hit in their country, and the conservative circles jumped right ahead to hating the “long haired street thugs clad in black leather”.
Riff has even more of a Hard Rock sound than early Arkangel. The band pretty much sounds like AC/DC and Saxon worship (Saxon’s Wheels of Steel released in 1980; Riff’s Ruedas de Metal released in 1981. Coincidence? I think not) with a heavy dose of blues.
“Enough with the hippies, enough with the begging – it’s time for Metal!” The hypocritical power structures which terrorized its population just years before in the so-called Dirty War would condemn the Hard Rock/Heavy Metal crowd, particularly V8, as dangerous and unruly. Despised by the local music business for their attitude and Motörhead-induced sound (which they barely considered music), the band saw themselves as more comrades with the punks and were nearly jailed due to some issues with a studio. V8 aptly titled their first album Luchado por el Metal or “Fighting for Metal”, for which we have titled this primer.
Members of the band went on to form other renowned projects like Hermética and Horcas.
- Luchando por el Metal (1983) – A Speed Metal classic, it bears resemblance to Motörhead and even Venom with how aggressive and dirty it sounds. Essential
- Un Paso Más en la Batalla (1985) – Continuing the style of the debut, but further refining it, Un Paso expands on what Luchando did. The end result is an even tighter and more enjoyable release. Recommended
A cult and sadly overlooked band, Bloke only recorded one album on Umbral Discos & Cintas before quitting in the early 80s. Unlike V8, this band was way more melodic and in line with Iron Maiden and 80s Judas Priest. The most memorable song, in my opinion, is “Bajo el Signo del Terror.” The lyrics are an impressively well-written, anthemic condemnation of the Argentinian’s military crimes against its own population. So many bands sing about being “Under the sign of [something],” but these guys truly lived “Under the Sign of Terror”.
- Demolición (1984) Recommended
Hellion is yet another speed metal band in like this V8. I don’t know why this style got so popular early on in Argentina, but I’m definitely not complaining. Supposedly Hellion released an independent demo in 1982 just like V8, making them one of the earliest metal bands from Argentina. Their self-titled debut album came out in 1984 and fits in nicely with Bloke and V8 despite not being on Umbral Discos & Cintas.
With Thor we have more of the mid paced, hard rock influenced heavy metal that was popular in Latin America. They released two independent cassettes in 1983 and are notable for having evil, Satanic lyrics before their peers were readily adopting them. Thor’s story is a bit of a peculiar one. The band’s debut album, El Pacto, was released in 1985 also under Umbral Discos & Cintas.
Relative to the rest of Latin America, there wasn’t much going on here to my surprise. Unless I’m missing something I could only find two releases that fit the bill for this primer.
- Infierno Rock Compilation (1987) – A split compilation of several bands. The earliest recordings are from the bands Feedback and Chronos in 1983 – 1984.
- Rock Duro y Pesado Compilation (1985) – Another multiple artist compilation, this time all from 1985: Ekkos, Electroshock, Panchorreta, and Armamento. The only band that would eventually go on to release material of their own beyond this split was Ekkos, who put out a pair of albums titled La Maquinaria and La despedida in 1986 and 1990 respectively.
You can see from the above compilations that there were several artists active around the time period we’re looking at, but they just were not so active in releasing stuff.
Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean
Aside from Brazil, Mexico is the most populous country in Latin America and combined with its relative proximity to the USA, a hotbed of heavy metal activity, led to the rise of their traditional metal scene.
Cristal y Acero
Cristal y Acero are a well regarded band which is still actually going today. They play a mix of hard rock, classic heavy metal, and early power metal. The band debuted in 1984 with their self titled album, but they are best known for their album Kuman, which formed the basis of a Fantasy Rock Opera.
- Kuman (1984) – There’s something interesting here that makes this particular release stand out compared to the rest of the primer. It’s a Fantasy/Sci-Fi Rock Opera with a Tarzan-like story and geared towards a younger crowd. I can’t tell if it’s the bands own creation or an adaptation, but it was a huge hit back in the day and it’s still hailed as a classic in Mexican Rock. They may have had the biggest outreach out of all these bands due to this performance.
- Espadas de Acero (1986) – Their follow up to Kuman was far less dramatic, but still great. Don’t let the third rate tattoo parlor aesthetics fool you, Espadas is an upbeat classic metal album with plenty of good riffs.
Along with Cristal y Acero, Luzbel is probably the most known and best regarded 80s Metal Mexican band. Formed by guitarist Raúl Fernández Greñas, Luzbel grew to be one of the regions most influential bands. Raúl himself spent some time in the UK during the NWOBHM and even tried his hand at success there with the band RED, who only released one demo in 1981 before dissolving. Despite the lack of success in the UK, Raúl returned to his native Mexico with fresh ideas and Luzbel became a driving force in the country’s metal scene.
- Metal Caído del Cielo (1985) Representing the rebirth of Luzbel with a new vocalist, this EP is an excellent offering that shines as one of the best from Latin America. Its dark and foreboding cover accentuates the passionate and epic vocal performance found here. Each of the four tracks presents a different lyrical theme and slightly different style, ranging from the religious, doomy, and epic to the more carefree, blues-rock influenced, but it doesn’t sound disjointed at all. The variety here is incredible. Despite being under 18 minutes long, this ambitious Metal Caído del Cielo is one of the best releases to come out of Latin America. Essential.
- Pasaporte al Infierno (1986) – Pasaporte al Ifierno is the successful follow up to Luzbel’s seminal Metal Caído del Cielo EP. Relative to its predecessor, this one picks up the pace and follows a more aggressive speed metal oriented mold.
Ramses formed as early as 1980, but wouldn’t release their debut album titled Apocalipsis until 1985. Their debut was a rough around the edges and amateurish take on hard rock infused heavy metal. It wouldn’t be much later until 1988 where the band would eventually find their groove with Guerroros del Metal. Clearly inspired by the early German speed power metal scene and American power metal, Guerroros sounds like a cross between Agent Steel and Helloween. It shows a band that was clearly able to grow and adapt new sounds to reach a height that they previously couldn’t.
Broncco, also known as B’rock, starting all the way back in 1970 as a rock band named Thorns. They eventually settled on Broncco in 174, however, it wouldn’t be until 1981 that we finally got a proper metal release with the 7″ No somos diferentes. Broncco’s story is an inspiring one considering founding member Chente Sibrián has had polio since he was one-year old and is a self-taught guitarist. Broncco wouldn’t officially release a debut album until all the way in 1996 with B’rock. For context on the brutal situation unraveling in this tiny nation when Broncco started out, watch the film Salvador, by Oliver Stone.
- B’rock – Tiempo de Amanacer* – This particular song is a 1996 recording of a single originally released in 1985.
Unlike the 70s hard rock scene, which was a working class thing, Metal from Guatemala came from the better-off middle class. Drummer and singer ‘Blacko’ González (nicknamed thus because of his love of Venom and First Wave Black Metal) almost single-handedly started the Metal scene by importing international music and airing it on his radio show. The unique band Cuerpo y Alma had already laid the foundations for Metal with their Black Sabbath/Guatemalan folk mix as far back as ’71 – ’73, but their legacy (a classic tale of Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll set in a military dictatorship) remains more obscure than Blacko’s.
Blacko’s first band, they considered themselves Black Metal because of their dark sound and Satanic themes. While Blacko became a born-again Christian and founded another band, Guerreros del Metal, Guitarist Charly Velásquez would go on to form the much superior and wonderful Serpiente Vision with other scene veterans.
- Visión Satánica EP (1987) – Similar to Venom but with a Hard Rock, bluesy sound instead of a punk one. It might sound better than it actually is, but check it out if you like lo-fi rarities.
- Serpiente Visión – I just want to shoehorn this band in here because they’re my personal favorite from the entirety of Central America and Mexico. Formed by old-timers and scene veterans, their only recording didn’t come out until 1995 and, in my opinion, has a totally unique, dark sound. While they toyed with the image of Mayan mythology, their music doesn’t reflect that. Recommended
Somehow skipping a civil conflict unlike every single one of its neighbors, Honduras still had to suffer through the terror inflicted by the CIA-backed Battalion 3-16 during the 80s and one of the highest poverty rates in Latin America.
By 1985, the lone Salvadorean band had released two singles, while Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama had nothing. These Hondurans were literally years ahead of their neighbors. With a spark of the ongoing dream for a unified Central America, their sole album, Forjado en Rocka, was recorded in El Salvador and was well received in both Guatemala and Nicaragua. Musically, it’s a solid effort that sounds like a lower production value Arkangel.
After a number military dictatorships and civil wars, this country started making progress in the 80s.
Formed in 1983, Cygnus is the first Dominican and first Caribbean band in general.Their live shows were apparently a big hit and they made a lasting impact on the small Dominican scene. They wouldn’t officially release any material until 1987’s Estoy fuera de de control single and 1988’s 3 track demo.