Foreword

About 4 years ago I wrote a couple of primers introducing people to the basics of the United States Power Metal movement, or USPM, for short. I shared these primers on websites like Reddit’s metal section and ultimate guitar’s metal forum. If this post looks familiar, you likely saw a previous iteration referenced from one of those sites or someone adapted parts of it.

This is a rewrite of those primers and will have updated information that should make it easier to read and more comprehensive. Enjoy!

See pt. II (unknown 80s EPs and albums) of my guide to USPM here!
Find pt. III (Demos) here!


Let’s start with a refresher! (Skip this if you’re familiar with USPM)

What is USPM and what does it sound like?

USPM stands for United States Power Metal – an evolution of traditional metal that took place in the US starting around the early-mid 80’s. Most people are familiar with the European Style of power metal – USPM is nothing like that. To lift from my first primer, USPM has a very distinct sound and grit to it. The very core of USPM is influenced by the early NWOBHM movement. The pioneers of the USPM movement took the NWOBHM and made it into something entirely their own. They sped it up. They made it more energetic. They increased the number of solos. The vocals were intensified. They added POWER.

There were two distinct styles that emerged within USPM – I’ll refer to them as “aggressive” and “progressive”. “Aggressive USPM” is more speed metal oriented in nature, often times flirting with thrash as well. “Progressive USPM” has a focus on melodies and bigger vocals while usually incorporating more complex song structures. I use the term progressive here but not every album features those complex song structures – rather I’m using that term to broadly describe bands that really don’t fit under that speedy, thrashy aggressive variety. It just happens that most of these bands featured progressive song structures! These distinctions aren’t hard and fast (many bands blur the line in between), but rather they should serve as general guidelines.

The following releases in my humble opinion serve as fantastic gateways to exploring the genre. They consist of some of the best releases in USPM and act as wonderful representatives of the various sounds found in the genre.

Aggressive Starter Kit:

Progressive Starter Kit:


Genre Essentials (80’s – Early 90’s)

Once you’ve gotten your feet wet and decided that you enjoy this type of music, it’s time to start hitting the essentials! Essential albums here are defined by 3 key attributes: popularity, influence, and quality. The albums listed below meet all of the criteria to varying degrees.

Aggressive Essentials:

Progressive Essentials:

Special Mentions:

There were a few bands that released material around this type that are related to USPM but don’t quite fit the moniker. These bands are undoubtedly high quality and at times certainly flirted with the USPM sound (some a lot more than others). Both the quality and influence of this bands cannot be understated and for those reasons I believe they deserve a special mention here.


Modern Champions (Mid 90’s – Current)

By the time the 90s rolled around USPM had already begun to die out. With that said, plenty of bands still carried the torch throughout the 90s and more recent years have seen a revitalization with many new bands playing this type of style. I’ve listed below some of the higher quality releases from the 90s up to the current year. Unlike the previous essentials listed for the 80s, influence and popularity are not considered for the below.


Editor’s Choice – Full Length Albums

In this section I’ll describe the releases I personally feel are the absolutely most distinguished. I’ll break it out by full length and EPs. For this section, I’ll refrain from repeating bands since the list is short and I’ll omit bands from the “special mentions” section above – otherwise I’ll essentially be left with a list full of Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol.

Remember, this is just my personal opinion so feel free to totally disagree!

Full Lengths:

Honorable mention) Cauldron Born – Born of the Cauldron

A true masterpiece of 90s metal that is equal parts Fates Warning and Helstar. It’s a mix of both the progressive and aggressive elements of USPM brought together in a perfect harmony by Howie Bentley’s twisted mind. Complex riffs, epic song structures, and catchy vocal melodies – it’s all there. The end result is a highly unique and top-notch album that you just have to experience for yourself.

5) Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian

Fates Warning, the popularizers of progressive/power metal, delivered a ridiculous 1-2 punch in the mid 80s having released Spectre Within in 1985 and then Awaken the Guardian in 1986. Legions of bands have since tried to imitate what they’ve done on those two records to varying degrees of success. Both Spectre and Awaken the Guardian are landmark USPM albums but I believe Awaken personally takes the cake. This album has the same masterful song structures and riffing as Spectre but is overall more accessible. John Arch’s vocals are definitely unique and take some getting used to for folks, but once you get past that the band’s musical prowess really shines through.

Absolutely essential listening.

4) Riot – Thundersteel

Thundersteel is just one of those albums that touches me to the very core. It has absolutely everything I could ever want in a power metal album from blistering solos to banging riffs to beautiful, melodic vocals. I come back to it time and time and time again without ever getting bored. It’s just perfect all the way through.

3) Crimson Glory – Crimson Glory

Classy, powerful, and majestic, Crimson glory’s self titled debut delivers everything I could possibly ask for in a USPM release. The songwriting is simple but the riffs are extremely memorable. The album is carried by Midnight’s transcendent vocals – there are plenty of moments where I just think to myself “How is he even able to fucking do that?”. Overall, the Crimson Glory ST is an astounding album with a remarkable almost intangible quality to it that has me constantly replaying it throughout the years.

2) Jag Panzer – Ample Destruction

Aggressive, ballsy, and uncompromising. If Crimson Glory’s debut is everything I look for in a progressive USPM album, then Jag Panzer is everything I look for in the aggressive variety. This album has always been my go to recommendation for first time listeners to USPM. The aggressive and uncompromising nature of Henry “The Tyrant” Conklin and co. grab you by the throat and never let go. Ample Destruction is the hallmark USPM album and demonstrates the stark contrast found between USPM and their European cousins.

See my full thoughts on Ample Destruction here!

1) Tyrant – Too Late to Pray

Paragon – “a person or thing regarded as a perfect example of a particular quality”.

This is my personal metal paragon. Not just USPM – this album possesses all the qualities I could possibly ask for in a release. Powerful mid-paced riffing that balances aggression, doom, and epicness topped off with testosterone filled vocals. The production is unique and heavy and when combined with the music creates an atmosphere of Armageddon unlike anything else out there. I’ve spent the last 10 years since I found this album looking for anything remotely similar to no avail. I could spend hours talking about how this album has changed how I view metal and music as a whole, but that wouldn’t do it justice.

Too Late to Pray is a unique album that really just needs to be experienced. If there’s anything you take from my primers, just listen to this album at least once.


Editor’s Choice – EPs

5) Medieval Steel – Medieval Steel

MEDIEVAL STEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEL! IT CUTS YOU LIKE A KNIFE!!

Medieval steel play a slow to mid paced brand of USPM that is focused very heavily on the vocals. The result is a grand, epic sound that is reminiscent of Manowar’s slower, more grandiose moments found on releases like Into Glory Ride. This band’s self titled EP, and song more specifically, have become cult classics for their anthem-worthy pace and choruses. Essential listening if only for the title track.

4) Dark Age – Dark Age

Dark Age’s self titled EP is one of the first releases I discovered and found myself really getting into after scratching the surface USPM. There’s a magical uplifting energy coming from the vocals and riffs that make it very clear this band was having an absolute blast putting together this release. Every song is unique and has its own little character and story around it from the faster paced bangers such as “Metal Axe” and “Warrior” to the slow and epic “Tales of Medusa”. This EP has gained a status of reverence and worship in trad circles for its superior quality. The music here is so good that legendary cult band Tales of Medusa named themselves after one of the songs here – in fact, I’d be willing to say that their sound is extremely influenced by the style and structure of this song in particular.

This little EP has become one of my most listened to USPM releases since discovering the genre. It is really a shame that we didn’t any more material out of this band.

3) Savatage – The Dungeons are Calling

Savatage’s Dungeons are Calling EP came right after the band’s remarkable debut Sirens. Stylistically, it serves as an effective continuation of Sirens but with a slightly more aggressive edge. Every song on this EP is 100% killer and 0% filler. After listening to this album, you too will feel captured by the grace of the witch because I sure as hell am with every listen.

2) Queensryche – Queensryche

Queensryche – the legendary power progressive band – started out far simpler than whatever they became later in their career. Their self titled EP was their first major release and it provides us with a very straight forward 17 minute slab of metal. Queenryche’s relatively simple approach on this EP doesn’t take anything away from the music at all, in fact it does the exact opposite. The 1983 release of this EP set the foundation for what the progressive side of USPM would start to sound like. Queen of the Reich and The Lady Wore Black, both found here on this EP, became some of the most recognizable songs out of the USPM movement. The legendary Queensryche at their best.

1) Warlord – Deliver Us

Warlord’s first major release is incredibly varied and complex from the dark and slower “Black Mass” to the more aggressive and in your face “Child of the Damned”. The vocals, riffing, song structures – everything is tight on this EP. Each song on here is a classic, it’s truly astounding.

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Marco

Founding member and primary author and editor of Ride into Glory. Runs the social media accounts. Traditional heavy metal maniac intent to bring heavy metal to the world!

24 Comments

Mikey · August 8, 2018 at 3:25 am

Amazing write up, your previous incarnations of this material were a huge help to me in the past. Two other bands that are not listed here because they are not American but offer similar excitement are Cloven Hoof (Dominator/Sultans Ransom) who I’m sure you are familiar with, but also Sacred Blade/Othyrworld from Canada.
Thanks again!

    Marco · August 8, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Hey Mikey, I’m really glad you like the guide and that it’s been helpful to you! There are definitely a number of non-American bands that certainly fit the style. I decided to not include them mainly since they had limited impact on the development of the movement itself.

    With that said, Cloven Hoof’s A Sultan’s Ransom and the Othyrworld/Sacred Blade albums are classics of their own!

    Substratum’s latest album is great too, but I consider them more straightforward heavy metal than USPM

Mikey · August 8, 2018 at 3:29 am

Also Substratum from Seattle!

Vortex · August 20, 2018 at 9:45 pm

Greetings from Ukraine! Thank you for your opinion and very interesting review.

Vortex · August 20, 2018 at 9:54 pm

So tired for so many years of proving of USPM existence, not only Euro One… Some people don’t agree with me because the only argument they have is in fact “all these bands play heavy metal, where is the power?” 🙂 I thought I was the only one who had heard the difference between them…

    Marco · August 23, 2018 at 2:14 am

    Hi there, thanks for your interest! I think you’re definitely right and your friends need a lesson in old-school power metal! US Power came first and some of the bands, like Virgin Steele or Crimson Glory, would still be considered power metal even by the fans of the European style.

      Vortex · August 24, 2018 at 11:58 am

      Virgin Steele and Crinson Glory are ones of my favourite bands for 25 years, they released such brilliant albums! I prefer USPM over EUPM in general, because many eurobands are very soft and sometimes pop-oriented, unfortunately, not to mention modern music made by them – nothing remained of old school. My favourite bands always were and will be Manilla Road (R.I.P. Shark), Omen, Crimson Glory, Virgin Steel, Vicious Rumours, Metal Church, Agent Steel, Fates Warning, Queensryche, Warlord, Attacker, Banshee, Chastain, also would like to add modern USPM bands like Cage, Jacob’s Dreams, Cauldron Born, Gothic Knights, Icarus Witch and other awesome bands!

Benoît · August 24, 2018 at 9:47 pm

Hi Marco, let me please congratulate you for the excellent work that you have shared and the wonderful guide that you have created. To be honest it is amazing how I would totally agree with and approved all your recommendations. From the masterpiece “awaken the gardian” to the aggressor “too late to pray”! I have been listen to metal since 1981 and even if I evolve to rather the extreme part of it Death/Black, I have always kept a strong interest in epic HM so called Power Metal whose US Heralds are unchallenged ( Manowar, Omen, Jag Panzer, or Queensryche and Crimson glory for the progressive side of it).
May I add without criticism that your list could may be completed with some other names. One of my favourite TITAN FORCE. But also EXXPLORER. Some release were at the edge of it: Avalanche 85 lp, Damien Thorne 86 lp, Leather Nunn 86 lp, Siren 86 lp, X-caliber 86 lp, Thrust 86 lp, Satan’s Host 86 lp, Ruthless 84mlp, sacred rite 84 lp, Shok Paris 84 lp, Mox Nix 84 lp, Rhet Forrester 1st solo 84 lp, Thrasher 86 lp.
90ies band such as Attika, Psychotic Waltz, Mystic Force.
I have 2 questions why not including Saviour Machine (at least first 2 albums) too gothic?
Couldn’t we consider The Voice of HM : DIO as a part of the USPM (a real debate for passionates 😉
Thank you once again! I really appreciate your guide: Bravo!

    Marco · August 24, 2018 at 10:08 pm

    Hi Benoit, thank you for your interest and support!

    I haven’t made it clear in my original guide, but this is meant to be part I of a 3 part series. In this first part, the goal was to touch on the bigger and more important bands in the scene as well as some of the more modern albums in this style. In my part II (writing it now in addition to my other articles), I will be going over lesser known 80s albums/EPs from this scene. Some of the favorites incldue bands like Sacred Rite, Titan Force, Exxplorer, Warrior, Dark Age, etc., etc. I think you will enjoy that guide as well! Part III will be discussing the many demos of the scene, so stay tuned for those!!

    Yes I would consider Saviour Machine more on the gothic side of things. As for Dio, that one is very debatable. I think his solo project is more traditional heavy metal than this style of power metal. With that said, he is very much the grandfather of the power metal/epic heavy metal style with his wonderful work with Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow. Rising and Long Live Rock n’ Roll are masterpieces!

      Benoît · August 25, 2018 at 7:03 am

      Hi Marco, thanks a lot for your kind and fast reply. I can’t wait for part 2 & 3!! Keep the excellent work! You can count on my support. All the best to you.

Alex C · August 26, 2018 at 8:26 pm

This list is as accurate as it gets. But Glacier Ep from 1985 is cruelly missing from the aggressive essentiels.

    Marco · August 26, 2018 at 8:45 pm

    I’m a big fan of Glacier, both the EP and demos. Watch out for pt. II and III of my guide in the near future!

Darsh · August 29, 2018 at 1:44 pm

I agree with your definition (agressive/progessive), but sorry, all these bands are not USPM : Eternal Champion, Sumerland, Visigoth. They are “Epic Metal”, like your “Special Mentions” Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol and co… They don’t sound more “energetic”, more “speed” etc than traditionnal european Metal bands. But they are Epic, like Heavy Load who was swedish.

    Marco · August 29, 2018 at 9:17 pm

    Hi Darsh, thanks for stopping by!

    I think it’s important to remember that when looking at a guide like this, not everything is black and white. For example, I have Savatage and Chastain under “progressive” but they both certainly have plenty of bite and were plenty aggressive at times.

    It’s the same thing with the other bands. Yes, they’re Epic Metal! I love that genre and will be writing a similar guide for that sometime in the future. However, it would be egregious not to include them in a guide like this. Manilla Road share many similarities with USPM, Cirith Ungol’s “One Foot in Hell” album is purely USPM, etc. Bands like Eternal Champion and Visigoth ooze USPM influence, listen to tracks like “I am the Hammer” and “Dungeon Master” for example. All of these bands touch on USPM and are worth a mention in my books!

      Daniel Orozco · October 5, 2018 at 6:26 am

      Also Marco, you did include Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol, both bands being parts of the epic metal movement. So I do believe that bands like Eternal Champion definitely belong here.

Sgt Major · January 2, 2019 at 8:45 am

WOW! Two or three years ago I dropped out from keeping up with the new releases in black and death metal, two genres I listen to the most, and instead looked back to focus on discovering heavy and US power gems I missed during the years. I’ve been into metal for almost 20 years, starting from bands like Metallica, Slayer, Pantera etc, but I quickly dipped into black metal vortex and death metal, so I’ve only recently started listening to heavy and US power metal, finding out that there’s so much quality music there. T

This amazing work of yours will surely help me expand my knowledge and taste! Thank you very much, kind sir!

Scaramusso · May 8, 2019 at 3:37 am

Marco..¿why you don’t include Leatherwolf at the list?

    Marco · May 8, 2019 at 3:43 am

    Hello there! Leatherwolf are included in part 2 of the guide 🙂

      Scaramusso · May 7, 2019 at 9:01 pm

      Hi Marco! Thanks for your answer! Do you consider Leatherwolf in the category “white collar” or “blue collar”? A big hug from Argentina!

        Marco · May 8, 2019 at 5:38 am

        Hails from the states! I don’t really like using either term anymore, they feel outdated and classist by nature.

        I think if I had to group USPM bands today, I would think of them in 4 categories; aggressive, epic, progressive, and rock based. I think Leatherwolf fall into the rockin’ category with a huge amount of aggressive edge, similar to a band like Lizzy Borden.

John Morrow · August 2, 2019 at 1:12 pm

Hi Marco, from South Africa!

Your Reddit version helped me out with finding a ton of lesser-known USPM releases a few years ago – so glad that you are updating and adding to it.
Such a wealth of music that flies right under most people’s radars.

And cheers for adding Satan’s Hallow, Eternal Champion, Sumerlands, Demon Bitch, et al – they really are flying the modern USPM flag!!

    Marco · August 2, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    Thanks for the kind comment John! I’m very glad that they’ve helped you! Sometime later this year, the first portion will be rewritten to better match the standards of the rest of the site 🙂

Bladerunner · March 5, 2020 at 11:58 pm

Great lists but I’m rather shocked that THE greatest USPM album of all time, WARRIOR – Fighting For The Earth’, is not even getting a mention. How can this be?!

    Marco · March 6, 2020 at 2:28 pm

    We included Warrior in the second section which mentions lesser known bands 🙂

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