- 1 Introduction
- 2 What is USPM and what does it sound like?
- 3 USPM Starting Points
- 4 Special Mentions: Epic Heavy Metal
- 5 USPM Essentials (80s)
- 6 The 90s and Beyond
In the current internet age, genres and characterization of metal music is so precise and defined. However, this wasn’t always the case. Back during the height of heavy metal mania in the 1980s, there were so many bands and scenes popping up at such a fast pace that it was impossible to keep up with tags. Nowadays we understand power metal to mean a specific range of sounds, but during the early and mid 80s it was used as a term to differentiate more aggressive and evil sounding heavy metal bands from the glam/hard rock leaning stuff that was so popular. Metallica had a bootleg demo all the way back in ’82 titled Power Metal named after a term their first bassist Ron McGovney used on very early business cards (approximately April 1982 and potentially the first usage of the term). Venom also at one point referred to themselves as power metal in a Kerrang! interview as early as November 1982. Even bands like Slayer and Voivod were referred to by that tag and Pantera released an album titled Power Metal in 1988 to make a statement about their sound. Of course we now understand that none of these bands are actually what we today call power metal.
While Slayer themselves were never power metal, many of their American peers at the time were. Energized by the explosion of metal originating from the UK during the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, American bands took inspiration, stripped most of the hard/blues rock roots, and started adding their own touches all while retaining that classic heavy metal foundation. This style is now referred to as United States power metal.
This article is the first in a trilogy of guides chronicling the United States power metal (USPM) scene. This first section focuses on defining the sound and providing listening essentials. It also includes excerpts from interviews with Mike Sabatini of Attacker and Howie Bentley of Cauldron Born.
For other segments of the guide, please see the following links:
See pt. II (lesser known 80s EPs and albums) of my guide to USPM here!
Find pt. III (Demos) here!
What is USPM and what does it sound like?
United States power metal is an umbrella term used to define the range of American bands playing a classic heavy metal that sprung up after the NWOBHM. The movement really kicked off in 1983 before it started petering out in 1989. The pioneers of the USPM movement took the traditional heavy metal sound of bands like Iron Maiden 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 made it more melodic. The songs were more complex and progressive. Not all bands sounded the same or went for the same approach, but they all shared one important thing: they moved away from the hard/blues rock inspired sounds of the NWOBHM and added intensity – POWER.
“From classic rock to to metal, I have always felt that anything you hear has an influence whether intended or not. We loved Priest, Scorpions, Maiden, Accept, UFO, Riot, Anvil, Loudness to name a few.” says Mike Sabatini, drummer of early USPM band Attacker. “Back in the 80s US bands took their influences and used them to create their own style. They did not just copy what others did. I would say the Euro and British styles of Metal were where the US style came from but with our own added flair.”
Howie Bentley of 90s USPM flagbearers Cauldron Born agrees that the UK really laid the foundation for American bands as he says “…all of these USPM bands were influenced by three bands, when you get right down to it: Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest.” Howie elaborates a bit further and mentions that “fans now can shit-talk them all they want, but bands like Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer had something new and fresh going on at the time. I listened to those bands and I am sure some of the songwriters for the other USPM bands listened to them, too. It’s why the bands that were still operating in traditional metal territory in USA sounded a little harder-edged than the bands across the pond.”
This harder edge that Howie refers to is a key, defining part of the US power metal sound that helps differentiate it from the far more popular European branch of power metal that has become the standard. While US and EU power metal are both evolutions of the traditional heavy metal style, USPM tends to be more riff-centric with a wider range of vocals from gruff baritones to tenors with impeccable falsetto. EUPM on the other hand is more chorus driven and really leans in on big vocals – there’s less room for baritones and singers with a rougher edge. European bands also tend to utilize keyboards and neoclassical guitar solos whereas those two elements are nearly unheard of in the US strain. Additionally, US power metal makes more use of mid-paced sections and a more prominent bass. With all that said, there’s quite a bit of variety within both strains of power metal – USPM in particular has a wide range of sounds that fit under its umbrella.
While not a necessary criteria in defining music, there are some recurring lyrical themes found in US power metal. Compared to the traditional heavy metal found in the NWOBHM, the American bands leaned a bit more into fantasy and sword & sorcery lyricism. On this topic, Howie Bentley says “I think sword-and-sorcery, horror, the occult, and fantasy in general is a defining factor in heavy metal. Heavy metal goes beyond music, it is about a state of mind. I often mention that Robert E. Howard was writing heavy metal almost fifty years before the first Black Sabbath album was recorded. He was just expressing this aesthetic through literature instead of music.”
USPM Starting Points
In an effort to make discovery easier, I’m separating the bands into two buckets; the first is for the more aggressive band and the second is for the more melodic or progressive bands. What I’m calling “aggressive USPM” is more speed metal and thrash metal oriented. While the bands I’m referring to as “melodic / progressive USPM” focused more on melodies, bigger vocals, and tended to have more complex song structures. Please keep in mind that these distinctions aren’t hard and fast (many bands blur the line in between), but rather they serve as general listening 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 incredible variety and songwriting found in the genre. In order to keep things simple, I’ll be recommending just one album per band.
Jag Panzer – Ample Destruction
With their 1984 debut album, Jag Panzer effectively defined an entire genre and regional scene. Ample Destruction is the quintessential United States power metal album. When introducing people to the style, this is always my go-to album. Simply put, it captures the very essence of the movement like no other and 30 seconds of Ample Destruction does more to describe USPM than any possible combination of words that I could ever come up with. There’s nothing pretty about this album. It’s straight forward, bare bones, in-your-face, balls-to-the-wall power metal that operates at maximum efficiency and that’s where its beauty lies.
Liege Lord – Master Control
Liege Lord’s Master Control is a time-weathered classic of USPM that serves as another one of the best entry points to the genre and is a shining example of what makes it so great. It exemplifies the best features of the genre; aggression, speed, catchy vocals, varied riffs, pounding drum and bass, blistering solos, and a strong production that ties it all together. Master Control manages to maintain a level of quality that is difficult to find elsewhere while still being very accessible and familiar for listeners (Bruce Dickinson like vocals definitely help!).
Omen – Battle Cry
Battle Cry isn’t a pretty album in the slightest – it’s straightforward and devoid of frills. You won’t find a fancy power ballad here or any lengthy songs. In fact, most of the songs clock in around or just under four minutes long. It’s the ruthless efficiency and earnestness that makes Battle Cry the classic that it is. Kenny Powell’s bouncy riffing and lead style are so very unique and vocalist JD Kimball (RIP) always finds a way to insert an appropriate gruff vocal melody above it all. This album is just chock-full of memorable lyrics and catchy guitar hooks that it’s impossible to forget. While everything in their classic period is stellar, Omen’s first effort is their best in my opinion and there’s few records out there that match the quality of Battle Cry.
Helstar – Nosferatu
Helstar are one of the more technically intense USPM bands out there. The riffs are incredibly complex and the solos are a blazing fast neoclassical affair, but rest assured that they never sacrifice songwriting simply for the sake of technicality. Helstar’s ability to write memorable and compelling songs is what makes them one of the scene’s finest bands. They have this uncanny ability to seamlessly transition between drastically different yet equally neck-breaking riffs and this makes listening to them a treat every single time. Nosferatu has a darker touch both lyrically and musically relative to the rest of their discography and it’s their most popular album for a very good reason – a must listen by all accounts!
Riot – Thundersteel
Thundersteel is everything and anything you could possibly ask for. Riot blend elements of classic heavy metal, furious speed metal, and beautifully melodic power metal together into forty-six minutes of bliss. The album cycles through a variety of sounds across the nine tracks and not once does the quality dip. For me, there’s a handful of albums that I find myself leaning on over and over again throughout the years. Whether I’m in a rough patch of life or whether I’m just mindlessly staring at my collection unable to determine what I should listen to, it’s these handful of releases that I rely on for their sense of familiarity, and above all, for their unwavering quality. Over the years I’ve increasingly found myself turning to Riot’s Thundersteel to fill this vital role in my listening.
Attacker – Battle at Helm’s Deep
Much like their peers in Jag Panzer – Attacker are a fantastic introduction and representation of what USPM is all about at its most basic level. The music on Battle at Helm’s Deep is simple, but still dynamic enough to be interesting. It’s very much still classic heavy metal and yet it has that extra edge and grit. The no-frills bullshit approach of Attacker is what makes them so good – plus the artwork on Battle at Helm’s Deep is iconic in itself!
Attacker are a band that strove for constant development and evolution in their sound and it shows with their impeccable sophomore album The Second Coming. On this topic, drummer Mike Sabatini says “We wanted to make an album that surpassed the Battle album in musical growth, musicianship and production. Being that we had different writers between the first 2 albums, they are somewhat different in style while keeping a common thread to the sound. I love both of these albums for what each one is.” It’s this drive for growth and musicianship that has kept Attacker consistently excellent despite line-up changes. They are one of the few bands that are still out there several decades later kicking ass and their modern albums are easily up to par with their classics. “We have had different members come and go who while in the band brought their style that ultimately worked for us. It has always been sort of fresh. When the same guy writes all the music for years, they sometimes run out of good ideas. That’s why most bands with the same writer historically, put out their best material in the first few albums. We have been very fortunate to be a consistent band in the writing department.“
Melodic / Progressive USPM
Crimson Glory – Crimson Glory
If Jag Panzer’s Ample Destruction is the paragon of aggressive US power metal, then Crimson Glory’s self-titled debut is the equivalent for the melodic and progressive side of the movement. Crimson Glory’s riffs and melodies are second to none and most importantly – the interplay between the vocals and guitar is unmatched. The songwriting is complex and nuanced without sacrificing edge and Crimson Glory are always sure to give plenty of room for all-star vocalist Midnight (RIP) to captivate the audience. He was a once in a generation talent that deserves to be mentioned with the greatest of all metal vocalists. Midnight was a master of his craft, able to infuse any song with class and charisma whether it was a slow and emotional ballad or a fast-paced banger. From a tight rhythm section to compelling riffs to untouchable vocals – this is a band that really had it all. Simply beautiful.
Warlord – Deliver Us
With a prominent emphasis on melody and tasteful use of keyboards, Warlord’s landmark 1983 EP titled Deliver Us is one of the first true examples of pure power metal. Warlord follow up on the foundation that Rainbow laid down many years before with Rising and take it to the next logical step. Songwriting William Tsamis has a sense of melody that is nearly unparalleled in metal and the subtle keyboard touches on this EP do wonders in bringing out those magnificent lead guitar melodies. Vocalist Jack Rucker aka Damien I is no slouch either as his smooth and soothing voice commands its own more subtle presence, fitting perfectly over a record that needs a bit of finesse.
Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche
Queensrÿche are a band that many readers may already be intimately familiar with. These metal legends are far and away the most popular band that can be grouped into the USPM umbrella. Although Operation: Mindcrime is heralded as their peak in the broader mainstream, it’s the pre-Mindcrime material that really sticks out as their strongest efforts, especially the self-titled EP and The Warning. Their magnificent EP in particular stands as both one of the earliest examples of US power metal and one of the most prominent. The songwriting isn’t incredibly complex, but it’s straight to the point and elegant. The songs feature that classic heavy metal sound that built upon the NWOBHM with that slight American edge. All-time great vocalist Geoff Tate wastes no opportunities on tracks like “Queen of the Reich” to remind you of how he earned his status in the first place. Even if you’re already very familiar with the Queensrÿche EP, it’s never a bad idea to take the opportunity and revisit this timeless classic.
Savatage – Sirens
Debuting in 1983 with Sirens, Savatage are in good company with Warlord and Queensrÿche as one of the first bands to leave their mark in USPM. They are the perfect example of a group that really does it all and an argument could just as easily be made for placing them in the aggressive camp of USPM as well. Much like the rest of their peers, they would pursue a more over the top and progressive sound with time, but their material up to 1987 (most notably including Sirens, The Dungeons are Calling EP, and Hall of the Mountain King) is just as chock full of aggressive riffs as it is beautiful vocal melodies.
Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian
Fates Warning are not an easy band to listen to. Awaken the Guardian and The Spectre Within are some of the greatest heavy metal albums ever written, but they do not open up quickly. It takes time to adjust and unravel their brilliance. The songwriting is maze-like: it’s complex and filled with twists and turns, but once you figure it out, the reward is well worth it. I would be remiss not to talk about vocalist John Arch’s role in particular. His specific high pitch singing style is a big part of why this era of Fates Warning is so difficult to get into, but at the same time he really defines the band’s sound and makes them unique. His vocal melodies and phrasing (how he emphasizes particular notes) are unmatched and in this regard he is truly one of a kind.
Heir Apparent – Graceful Inheritance
Heir Apparent are the least known and popular of the bands included in this section, but not for a lack of quality – rest assured that Graceful Inheritance fits very nicely in company with Crimson Glory and Queensrÿche. Their music is characterized by emphatic, charismatic vocals, exceptional leads, and incredibly active bass lines. Relative to the rest of the bands here, Heir Apparent opted for shorter, punchier tracks. The maximum song length on Graceful Inheritance is around five minutes long, but the majority of tracks clock in around three minutes with coming in just under that! You won’t find any meandering or a band trying to cram too many ideas here – just eloquent and progressive power metal.
Special Mentions: Epic Heavy Metal
There were a few bands that released material around this type that are related to USPM but don’t quite fit the moniker. Their music shares elements of USPM, but it veered into another direction: epic heavy metal (read more about that style here). Both the quality and influence of these bands cannot be understated and for those reasons I believe they deserve a special mention here.
Special Mentions Essential Listening:
- Brocas Helm: Into Battle, Black Death
- Cirith Ungol: King of the Dead, One Foot in Hell
- Manilla Road: Crystal Logic, The Deluge, Open the Gates, Mystification
- Slough Feg: Traveller, Down Among the Deadmen, Twilight of the Idols
USPM Essentials (80s)
Once you’ve gotten your feet wet and decided that you enjoy this type of music, it’s time to start hitting the rest of the essentials (and fill any gaps you might be missing)! Essential albums here are defined by 3 key attributes: popularity, influence, and quality. Of course this is all subjective at the end of the day, but the albums listed below meet all of the criteria to varying degrees.
Click here for aggressive USPM essentials!
- Armored Saint: March of the Saint
- Agent Steel: Skeptics Apocalypse, Unstoppable Force
- Attacker: Battle at Helm’s Deep, The Second Coming
- Griffin: Flight of the Griffin
- Helstar: Nosferatu, A Distant Thunder
- Hexx: Under the Spell
- Jag Panzer: Ample Destruction
- Liege Lord: Freedom’s Rise, Master Control
- Manowar: Into Glory Ride
- Metal Church: Metal Church, The Dark
- Omen: Battle Cry, Warning of Danger
- Riot: Thundersteel
- Sanctuary: Refuge Denied
- Savage Grace: Masters of Disguise, After the Fall from Grace
- Tyrant: Legions of the Dead, Too Late to Pray
- Vicious Rumors: Digital Dictator, Soldiers of the Night
Melodic and/or Progressive Essentials
Click here for melodic and/or progressive USPM essentials!
- Chastain: Ruler of the Wasteland, Voice of the Cult
- Crimson Glory: Crimson Glory, Transcendence
- Fates Warning: The Spectre Within, Awaken The Guardian
- Fifth Angel: Fifth Angel
- Heir Apparent: Graceful Inheritance
- Lizzy Borden: Love You to Pieces, Visual Lies
- Lords of the Crimson Alliance: Lords of the Crimson Alliance
- Savatage: The Dungeons are Calling, Sirens, Hall of the Mountain King
- Shok Paris: Steel and Starlight
- Screamer: Target: Earth
- Titan Force – Titan Force
- Queensryche: Self titled EP, The Warning
- Warlord: Deliver Us
The 90s and Beyond
By the time the 90s rolled around, traditional heavy metal had started to die out and US power metal was unfortunately not an exception. As the global trends moved away from metal as a whole and the underground community began to collate around the more extreme side of the spectrum, USPM was left in the dust. With that caveat, there were a number of bands throughout the 90s and beyond that tried to keep the flame alive.
More recent years have seen a revitalization of traditional heavy metal as younger guys who grew up on these styles become musicians themselves. There’s a number of more recent acts taking influence from the USPM masters of old and even some older bands like Helstar and Attacker have kept going strong. Festivals like Keep it True, Up the Hammers, and Hell’s Heroes have done a tremendous job of carrying that spirit and giving modern fans a chance to appreciate classic bands in this style. Mike Sabatini reinforces this point as he says “we have actually met more of our 80’s US peer bands overseas at festivals in the last 16 years than we had met here in the US!” He continues, reflecting on Attacker’s career, “there was an amazing scene here for sure, we were lucky to be part of the birth of the American and worldwide Metal movement.”
Virgin Steele – Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Virgin Steele’s origins date back to the early 80s and they released a few solid albums, but it’s their immaculate mid 90s period that really shines. This renaissance gave us a string of 5 classic worthy albums that start with the Marriage of Heaven and Hell saga. The Marriage saga pushed Virgin Steele’s sound and songwriting to its very extremities. Musically, Virgin Steele are closest to Manowar’s most epic moments, but with a more melodic slant. With these albums, they took an even grander approach to songwriting and treated their music as an epic metal opera. It’s dramatic heavy metal at its finest and there isn’t a single band out there that sounds quite like Virgin Steele at their best.
Twisted Tower Dire – Crest of the Martyrs
Twisted Tower Dire formed in 1995, well after the peak of US power metal. They would release a handful of demos in the mid 90s and after a few line-up changes they finally debuted with The Curse of Twisted Tower in 1999. Now at this point, the European style of power metal was immensely popular and it crept its way into Twisted Tower Dire’s sound. Curse… demonstrated a band that was capable of blending the best aspects of both US and EU power metal – fast paced riffs and a strong rhythm section with catchy, singalong choruses. Twisted Tower Dire would continue to hone their sound and they eventually arrived at Crest of the Martyrs, which in my opinion represents their creative peak. The songs are jam packed with unforgettable riffs and you’re pretty much guaranteed to walk away singing about “Axes and Honor”.
Destiny’s End – Breathe Deep the Dark
Featuring members of Helstar, Crescent Shield, and New Eden, Destiny’s End were one of the single most talented US power bands to ever exist. They were active from 1997 to 2001, which are effectively the worst possible years for traditional heavy metal in terms of global interest. This sadly meant that despite being such an excellent band, Destiny’s End went under the radar. It’s such a shame because if their debut album Breathe Deep the Dark was released in the mid 80s it would be considered an instant classic. It’s a blistering fast and technical power metal album that immediately brings to mind Helstar’s classic era especially given that the vocalist is Helstar legend himself James Rivera. Breathe Deep the Dark is a fantastic example of a staple 80s era musician carrying on and releasing a classic worthy album with a new project.
Demon Bitch – Hellfriends
What makes Demon Bitch so special is their approach to music. Their core sound is rooted in the darker, more occult side of traditional metal and bears strong resemblance to early Mercyful Fate. Demon Bitch latch onto that Merycful Fate blueprint and incorporate elements of USPM to create their own unholy blend and above all, they have the single most important element in metal – killer riffs. Hellfriends is a frantic album where it feels like it can really fall apart at any moment, but Demon Bitch always keep it together and the end result is incredible. Admittedly, this isn’t a very accessible release as the production and vocals are rough to say the least, but Demon Bitch aren’t trying to appeal to the mainstream in the first place.
Eternal Champion – Armor of Ire
Eternal Champion are a band that we’ve discussed on multiple occasions and this is with very good reason. The Armor of Ire has received widespread acclaim because it demonstrates all the hallmarks of a modern classic; killer riffs, flawless production, a captivating aesthetic, well crafted lyrics, and a genuine passion that radiates from the music. Eternal Champion’s sound is deeply rooted in that American epic metal scene, bringing to mind the likes of Manilla Road, Omen, early Manowar, and Brocas Helm. The Armor of Ire is a powerful, but new age testament to the classics of yore that has cemented Eternal Champion’s place as torchbearers of the new generation.
Cauldron Born – Born of the Cauldron
Formed in the mid 90s and led by guitar virtuoso Howie Bentley, Cauldron Born are one of US power metal’s finest bands regardless of era. Everything from their earliest demos to their latest 2014 release is brilliant, technical, and progressive power metal with neoclassical touches in the vein of legends like Helstar and Fates Warning. Their 1997 debut album Born of the Cauldron in particular stands out as a shining example of the best the genre has to offer.
A Conversation with Cauldron Born Songwriter Howie Bentley
Cauldron Born’s sound is a varied and complex take on US power metal with a heavy neoclassical undertone that Howie Bentley owes to his diverse musical interests. “My main influences in my formative years were Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, the first two Ozzy albums, and the first two Venom albums. I also liked some early thrash metal like Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer. Randy Rhoads blew me away and set me on fire to learn to play the guitar, but it was Yngwie Malmsteen that made me want to study music formally. By the time I graduated from AIM I was into all of these Shrapnel records bands and artists like Cacophony and Vinnie Moore, as well as progressive metal bands like King Diamond, Fates Warning, and Watchtower. I liked the idea of trying to forge my own sound with writing odd meter riffs and experimenting with atonality. I was also listening to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Allan Holdsworth a lot then.”
However, given the band’s timing it wasn’t an easy journey to arrive at Born of the Cauldron. When asked about the band’s origins and difficulties Howie comments: “I had moved from Kentucky to Georgia in 1988 to attend the Atlanta Institute of Music. I planned on making a living with my guitar after I graduated, so I started teaching forty to fifty students a week. I studied jazz guitar and classical at AIM, but I was steeped in metal. It was all I had listened to until then and all I wanted to play. I had heard about “all those metal bands” down in Georgia, but I wasn’t very impressed with what I heard when I got there. There was a mediocre little thrash scene, but the bands were all more hardcore than metal and didn’t write very good songs. I decided to form my own band, but it was hard because no one wanted to play the kind of music I was into. It took me years to form a good band. I released a demo under my name in 1993. The demo was titled Beyond the Shade Gates. I borrowed a singer and drummer from other bands just for a studio project. I managed to form Cauldron Born in 1994, but by then the scene in the United States for traditional metal was pretty much over with. It was an uphill struggle all the way.”
This struggle was unfortunately all too common for traditional metal musicians at the time. While there wasn’t much of a strong scene in the US during the 90s, some bands who played in the style were still sharing music and staying in touch. “I started getting to know quite a few guys who were wanting to do something similar to what I was doing after releasing the Swords, Sorcery and Science demo back in ’94. I was (and still am, as far as I am concerned) friends with guys in Skullview, Mystic Force, Nightmare’s End, and Mark Shelton (RIP) among others. I sent Swords, Sorcery and Science to Denis Gulbey. He had a fanzine called Sentinel Steel. Denis really liked the demo and told everyone about it. The word spread like wildfire and I was selling the hell out of those demo tapes.”
A key part of Cauldron Born’s music is a Sword & Sorcery aesthetic and lyricism that elevates the music. “I like to build another world with my music; a fantastic world into which the listener can escape, just like escaping into a good sword-and-sorcery tale. Also, as far as the similarity in ethos, I think sword-and-sorcery, as I recognize it (the Howard/Wagner branch, anyway) often emphasizes individual consciousness over collectivism.“
Howie Bentley has taken the Sword & Sorcery influence to the logical next level and started writing his own stories after Cauldron Born. “In 2015 DMR Books—a publisher in Chicago specializing in sword-and-sorcery—contacted me. I published my first tale, “All Will Be Righted on Samhain” in volume one of the DMR anthology series, Swords of Steel.“
“All Will Be Righted on Samhain” is a tale of revenge set during the aftermath of the Iceni revolt (around 62 AD). My tale features the Cauldron Born mascot, Thorn. Thorn is the Thorn rune incarnate—a sort of demon or god.”
Another Thorn tale, “The Heart of the Betrayer” was published in Swords of Steel II. In that story I introduce a new character named Argantyr. Argantyr is a barbarian swordsman who transforms into a werewolf. My book, The Snake-Man’s Bane collects my Argantyr stories and three of my Thorn tales up to this point. I am currently working on an Argantyr novel.”
“My latest published work is a collaboration with Matthew Knight (Eternal Winter) and Byron Roberts (Bal-Sagoth) titled Karnov: Phantom-Clad Rider of the Cosmic Ice. Matt came up with this character named Karnov who is a vampire hunter. Karnov is a warrior who returns home after a long battle to find his village destroyed and his family murdered by the hand of a powerful vampire lord. With the help of a sultry witch he is imbued with the powers of the Cosmic Ice and sets out on a quest to exact vengeance on the undead lord and his followers. The novel is a round-robin. Matt started it and handed it off to me. I added my portion then sent it to Byron. Then we repeated the process. We each wrote roughly a third of the book.”
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 – merely the quality!
Click here for 90s+ USPM!
- Archetype: Dawning
- Armored Saint: Symbol of Salvation
- Attacker: Giants of Canaan, Sins of the World
- Axehammer: Windrider
- Axiom: Vicious Circle
- Ballistic: Ballistic
- Batallion: Runaway
- Borrowed Time: Borrowed Time
- Catharsis: Pathways to Wholeness
- Cauldron Born: Born of the Cauldron, And Rome Shall Fall
- Commandment: Engraved in Stone
- Crescent Shield: The Last of My Kind, The Stars of Never Seen
- Dead Calm: No Way Out
- Demon Bitch: Hellfriends, Death is Hanging
- Destiny’s End: Breathe Deep the Dark
- Dofka: Toxic Wasteland
- Eternal Champion: The Armor of Ire
- Fireaxe: Lovecraftian Nightmares
- Gothic Knights: Kingdom of the Knights
- Helstar: Vampiro
- Iced Earth: Night of the Stormrider, Burnt Offerings
- Ironflame: Lightning Strikes the Crown
- Lethal: Programmed
- Magnabolt: Magnabolt
- Manacle: No Fear to Preserve
- Miles Beyond: Miles Beyond
- New Eden: Stagnant Progression
- Nightmare’s End: Blackened Mystery
- Onward: Evermoving
- Overlorde: Return of the Snow Giant
- Powersurge: MCMXCI
- Phantom: Cyberchrist
- Pharaoh: The Longest Night, Bury the Light
- Recon: Behind Enemy Lines
- Satan’s Hallow: Satan’s Hallow
- Skullview: Legends of Valor
- Spirit Web: Spirit Web
- Steel Angel: Inquiete
- Steel Assassin: War of the Eight Saints
- Steel Prophet: The Godless Principle
- Sumerlands: Sumerlands
- Twisted Tower Dire: Curse of the Twisted Tower, Isle of Hydra, Crest of the Martyrs, Netherworlds, Make it Dark
- Verscythe: A Time Will Come
- Virgin Steele: Invictus, Marriage of Heaven and Hell Part 1,Marriage of Heaven and Hell part 2
- Visigoth: The Revenant King
- Widow: Carved in Stone
- Winter’s Bane: Heart of a Killer
- Zions Abyss: T.A.L.E.S
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.
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 🙂
Mark Etienne · July 25, 2020 at 2:21 pm
Funny how earlier I came across an article about Greek black metal on this shit on which I commented and now see this again. I read it a long time ago and bought several records from the recommendations.
Mark Etienne · August 27, 2020 at 11:59 am
Demon Bitch LP alone is worth to read this well written trilogy of articles that keeps anyone entertained for ages with all the titles mentioned.
Marco · August 27, 2020 at 2:40 pm
Indeed, quite the band! For those who haven’t already, I recommend also listening to their side project White Magician. It’s like a brighter, more classic metal geared version of Demon Bitch and I hear a full length is on the horizon 🙂
Rob · December 21, 2020 at 7:35 pm
This is fantastic stuff! I own/owned several of these but there are tons I haven’t heard of. Reading your descriptions of the ones I do/did own makes it clear to me that our musical sensibilities are similar has me excited to dig into the rest. Thank you for this early Christmas present! Happy Holidays!
Captain Wild · April 18, 2021 at 12:23 pm
Amazing guide, I only disagree about Shok Paris, in my opinion they are blue collar USPM (at least the first two albums).
Marco · April 20, 2021 at 6:00 pm
Thanks for the kind words! I think however you want to categorize them works, they have a cool sound. At the end of the day, it’s excellent music. My favorite part of Shok Paris is how dynamic they are, especially with vocals
sebastien · September 11, 2021 at 5:01 am
First Thanks for your Job
I have a question as you don’t mention it in your guide, do you consider iced earth like the USPM
Marco · September 11, 2021 at 6:31 pm
I think so yes, especially on the first 3 albums
Jose S · December 31, 2021 at 1:58 am
Im no expert but most USPM just sounds like regular speed metal to me. Though i can definitely see how it would go on to create power metal. Thundersteel is the best
Robert Stevens · June 26, 2022 at 7:26 pm
Dark Age.California 1984.EP of the same name.Give a listen.”Viper “on you tube.