This is the second installment of a four part series chronicling epic heavy metal. The other installments of the series can be found here (links will become active once the rest are published):
The first part of the series defined epic heavy metal, discussed its foundations, and gave a quick overview of its origins. As discussed in part 1, many of the earliest epic heavy metal bands arose as a part of the US power metal movement. This installment will dive deeper into other North American bands that would fall under the epic heavy metal banner including a number of modern bands. I will attempt to highlight what I deem as essentials while still providing an accessible resource at the end of the article for the rest of the worthwhile releases.
What is included in essentials and what isn’t?
Every band and release listed in The Secret of Steel Pt. 1 is an essential piece of epic heavy metal. I highly recommend listening to and familiarizing yourself with the material discussed in that first installment before diving deeper into this article. This segment, along with the subsequent segments, will focus on bands that extend beyond the formative years of epic metal.
These articles are long and contain one or more interviews in them, as such it was important to carefully choose which bands and releases to dive deep on in order to maintain a readable length. There were a number of criteria used to narrow down essential releases to highlight. First and foremost, bands are chosen by a mix of popularity, influence, and quality. A band doesn’t have to hit all 3 criteria, but every band listed is high quality. To keep it clean, we are highlighting bands that have at least 1 full length album. Demos and EPs will be listed in the “other bands” section at the end along with other worthwhile albums from the scene. In addition, we are not including bands that have released their first full length within the last 2 years. While bands like Gatekeeper, Smoulder, Iron Griffin, Lethean, Chevalier, etc. are all excellent and potential candidates for this series, it is too early to tell where they will ultimately land in the grand scheme of things. There is 1 lone exception to this rule that is discussed in a later segment of the guide.
Note: As always, keep in mind that no guide will satisfy everyone’s taste. The band’s selected here a reflection of my personal take on the genre.
North American Essentials
Kicking off our essentials list is the mighty Virgin Steele. Although they were originally formed in 1982 by David DeFeis, it wouldn’t be until the mid 90s where they would hit their creative stride with a stretch of 5 classic worthy albums starting with The Marriage of Heaven and Hell – Pt. I. Their earlier albums were very solid and showed genre-defining epic moments here and there such as “The Burning of Rome (Cry for Pompeii)”, but the release of Marriage… marked a musical rebirth for Virgin Steele. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Pt. I and Pt. II) and the subsequent Invictus are to be taken as one massive saga spanning 3.5 hours.
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 the melodic edge of bands like Warlord. With Marriage as well as The House of Atreus, they took an even grander approach to songwriting and treated their music as an epic metal opera. Virgin Steele’s sound here is incredibly dramatic and it takes a while to digest, but once it clicks the end result is certainly worth it. There isn’t a single band out there that sounds quite like Virgin Steele at their best.
Recommended listening: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Pt. I and Pt. II), Invictus
The Lord Weird Slough Feg
The Lord Weird Slough Feg are just as strange and precarious as their name might suggest. Drawing equal influence from epic/power metal bands like Brocas Helm and 70s rock like Thin Lizzy, it’s difficult to pin Slough Feg down exactly to one style. However, with Mike Scalzi’s fireside storytelling approach to vocals and a bouncing style of Celtic influenced guitar riffs, epic heavy metal is a good umbrella term for their sound.
Formed in 1990, The Lord Weird Slough Feg’s career spans 10 studio albums across nearly three decades. No two albums sound the same and the dominant style and influence of each album differs, but in general their first four albums are more aggressive and power/epic metal influenced with Down Among the Deadmen standing as their most epic sounding effort. However, the band’s most popular and acclaimed album is Traveller. It’s less epic in nature and more straightforward, but it’s hailed as a classic by many with good reason. These two albums serve as wonderful entries into Slough Feg’s expansive catalog and if you enjoy them I recommend taking a look at the rest of their albums. Slough Feg is a band that rewards you for taking time with their varied discography.
Recommended listening: Down Among the Deadmen, Traveller
Further above I spent two entire paragraphs outlining my criteria for choosing essentials. I made a very strong point about not including demo and EP only bands, but here I will use my journalistic license to make an exception for Enchanter because I fully believe there is no better band in this style to have never released a proper album. They released a string of demos/singles from 1988 to 1990 that were eventually comped together in 2008 by Arkeyn Steel Records as Defenders of the Realm.
The three demos spread across the 50+ minutes on Defenders shows us a band that is capable of executing a number of different styles with songs ranging from the slower and more epic to progressive to straight bangers. It’s tough to describe Enchanter’s sound, but imagine a mix of Fates Warning, Manowar, and Manilla Road with an end result that is worthy of being compared to these greats.
Recommended listening: Defenders of the Realm
Argus have consistently been one of the best and most underrated bands of the last decade. They have released four full length albums and two EPs under their belt in the last 10 years and all of them are nothing short of excellent. While they are all excellent, Boldly Stride the Doomed and Beyond the Martyrs demonstrate Argus at their absolute best. Their signature sound lies somewhere in between the epic melancholy of Candlemass and the bouncing, up-tempo, storytelling of Brocas Helm and Slough Feg.
Whether they are playing crushing doom metal riffs, fast paced bangers, or midpaced anthems, Argus do it well and you are guaranteed a variety of sounds and song structures with each record. What really sticks out to me about Argus relative to other bands is their excellent use of acoustics and instrumentals. Their interludes are used sparingly and to an incredible effect. Argus take extreme care in their songwriting and the music is proof enough.
Recommended listening: Boldly Stride the Doomed, Beyond the Martyrs
Borrowed Time formed in 2010 and were done shortly after their debut in 2013. Three years – that’s it. Despite their short lived time as a band, Borrowed Time put out some of the best epic metal material in the last decade. Their sound took heavily from the likes of Manilla Road, but like with every great band mentioned here, they really had their own approach to things.
The band’s earliest material, compiled in Arcane Metal Arts, was rough around the edges, but showcased incredible songwriting. Borrowed Time’s self titled debut showed the same songwriting prowess, but presented a refined edge to it all. With both speed metal bangers and mid-paced epics, they demonstrated an ability to handle a spectrum of sounds. Although they broke up six years ago, their spirit lives on with the newly formed Prelude to Ruin, which features the primary songwriters of Borrowed Time – keep your eye out here!
Recommended listening: Borrowed Time, Arcane Metal Arts compilation
Tales of Medusa
No promotion. No identities. No cost. Just excellent music.
When Tales of Medusa were still making music, they took an unparalleled approach to it all. The band members were all anonymous and they gave away physical copies of their music entirely for free out of their own pocket, you just had to contact their email address. Their modus operandi is irrelevant because the music they put out is incredible. Named after a Dark Age song, Tales of Medusa based most of their sound classic US power metal, but their music isn’t mere worship. The songs are varied in structure, style, and influence with a healthy mix of doomy passages and uptempo bangers. Taking a more relaxed approach to it all, the vocals are a bit different than some of the other bands here, but they help add to Tales of Medusa’s unique sound.
My feelings on them are summed up by this excerpt from a previous review:
Tales of Medusa – a band who wanted it to be about nothing but the music itself. Music that is entirely removed and untainted by the mainstream. Anonymity not for the sake of creating a false hype, but to remove association. No one will listen because of who is in the band or what label they’re on, just for the merit of the music. Free physical media, completely out of pocket, to ensure that money is not a hindrance or requirement to enjoy their music. I think this is a band that is very easy to misinterpret. It’s simple to look at this whole thing and go “this is just a gimmick”, but believe me when I say that Tales of Medusa are the real deal.
Recommended listening: Triumphant Serenade, The Fatal Wounding Gaze
Just one album, Tyrant’s Too late to Pray, is all it took to truly solidify my love and obsession for heavy metal music. This is my favorite album of all time and my love for it is well documented already, but I would be negligent not to mention them here. Tyrant originally debuted in 1985 with a classic, mid-paced US power metal album titled Legions of the Dead. This is an excellent release that shows some of the best USPM had to offer, but Too Late to Pray is a different beast entirely.
For their follow up to Legions of the Dead, Tyrant really played up their Dio-era Black Sabbath influences and infused hell of a lot more doom into their sound. The songs are incredibly heavy, the baritone vocals are massive, the solos are blistering, the production is both roomy and ominous, and the rhythm section is thunderous. Too Late to Pray has strong religious undertones and chronicles the Christian end of times and that’s exactly what it sounds like. Too Late to Pray is a dark, epic, and foreboding journey through hell.
Recommended listening: Too Late to Pray
The Modern Torchbearers
Every once in a while a band comes along that has everything you could possibly ask for – riffs, impeccable production, world-class lyrics, and a captivating aesthetic. Eternal Champion has it all. These Americans first burst onto the scene with the release of 2013’s The Last King of Pictdom demo. While this initial showing demonstrated a lot of promise, it wouldn’t be until the release of the Retaliator/Vigilance split with Gatekeeper in 2015 that we got glimpses of what Eternal Champion were truly capable of. Fast forward one year to 2016 and we have what is one of the strongest debut albums in recent history – The Armor of Ire.
I’ve talked about The Armor of Ire in detail before, but it’s truly an album that deserves all the praise it receives. Eternal Champion took the influence of American epic metal giants like Manilla Road, Omen, and Manowar and synthesized it into their own deadly style. There’s an undeniable and intangible aura surrounding Eternal Champion and I believe this ultimately comes down to the band’s love for the scene. Eternal Champion clearly have a deep passion and respect for the music and this manifests itself in their sound, rightfully propelling them to the forefront of the scene as the modern flag-bearers of the style.
Recommended listening: The Armor of Ire
An Interview with Jason Tarpey
Jason Tarpey is a founding member, vocalist, and lyricist for Eternal Champion. In addition to Eternal Champion, Jason is the vocalist and lyricist for Iron Age, a crossover band, and Graven Rite, a doomier epic heavy metal band. Tarpey’s feathery, Mark Shelton influenced vocals, mystifying lyrics, and his commanding stage presence are all key factors in making Eternal Champion’s music unforgettable. In addition to being a musician, Jason has written a Sword & Sorcery novella titled Vengeance of the Insane God that was published in Swords of Steel by DMR Books.
How important are lyrical themes to metal music? Do you think they play a bigger role in epic heavy metal than other genres?
Lyrics are important, I don’t like to set boundaries on what lyrics should be or be about but you know good lyrics when you read ’em. They can be vague, they can be about nothing and still be effective. The only kind of lyrics I don’t care for are preachy or political ones. I should say I rarely care for them, there might be a few examples I dig, but I just don’t care what your opinion is, especially your political opinion. I’m in it for the story, and that’s why I love epic hm so much, because I’m usually getting a story or a reference to an event either historical or fictional. Lyrics play a bigger role in epic heavy metal because it seems that half of the reason you would define a band as “epic” is based on the lyrics and themes. If they aren’t grand in scale, if they don’t create an atmosphere that the listener has no choice but to be immersed in, then the lyrics aren’t doing their job.
What epic metal albums are the most influential to your music?
- Mystification (Manilla Road)
- Beyond the Crimson Horizon (Solitude Aeturnus)
- Hail To England (Manowar)
- Awaken the Guardian (Fates Warning)
- Resound the Horn (DoomSword)
- Nightfall (Candlemass)
- Age of Chaos (BattleRoar)
- Into The Netherworld’s Realm (Wrathblade)
- Forever (Memory Garden)
- One Foot in Hell (Cirith Ungol)
- Deliver Us (Warlord)
- Hall of the Mountain King (Savatage)
Eternal Champion writes songs based on stories by authors like Michael Moorcock and H.P. Lovecraft, but many songs like “I Am The Hammer” are based on a world and mythos that you yourself crafted. Can you tell us a little bit about the story of this world and what it’s based on? What were some of your inspirations for it?
The idea for the world was started when my band Iron Age was recording our second LP in 2008 called “The Sleeping Eye”, I had a Lovecraftian theodicy in my head as an answer the the problem of evil in the world. I thought “maybe the gods are either malicious or asleep”. So I thought of a god called Brakur who’s chosen to sleep through the aeons instead of watching It’s creation, but It’s dreams/nightmares lasting a millennia drove It insane. That was the idea for the song “Sleeping Eye of the Watcher”. Then we recorded a demo called “The Saga Demos” which was an incomplete tale set in the world of Arginor which I was starting to develop more at the time, this story takes place while The Sleeping Eye (Brakur), now insane from It’s aeon of nightmares, is stirring in It’s slumber. Then, when GRAVEN RITE started I wrote another song, “The Summoner’s Pit” set in Arginor as well. Once Eternal Champion started I figured I could really flesh this thing out. I wrote my first short story called “Vengeance of the Insane God” for DMR Books, it deals with a swordsman named Rænon who witnesses Brakur’s return, but now The Sleeping Eye/Insane God is completely mad and running amok in the world. Rænon’s story will be finished as a paperback to be released with the new EC record next year. It will unpack the events in “I Am The Hammer” and “The Armor of Ire”, as well as songs on the new album. You asked what some of my inspirations for it are, I would say reading Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Arthur Machen, Thomas Ligotti, Michael Moorcock and Robert E. Howard all influenced me a great deal.
Eternal Champion covered songs by Legend(US) and Mystic Force. These are 2 old school, cult epic metal legends. What other unknown epic metal bands do you think people should be aware of?
There’s a band from Austin in the early 80’s called Baron Steele that only released a two song demo, hunt down the 7′ version that was re-issued by TMU a few years ago, best shit ever. Blind Assassin, Longings Past, Thunder Rider, Wotan, Realmbuilder, and Black Sword Thunder Attack!
You’re a blacksmith by profession and I couldn’t think of anything more fitting. How did you get into this trade? Did the interest in blacksmithing come before the epic music or as a result of it?
It was Conan’s Dad’s fault. I’ve had a thing for swords since I was a kid, I think a lot of kids do, but I really wanted to learn how to make one. Once Iron Age was settling down I needed a career and I happened to meet a master blacksmith named William Bastas at a local metal gig. He’s one of the professors of metalsmithing at Austin Community College, so I thought to myself, “hey remember that dream you had as a kid of making swords?”, and I enrolled in classes for the next semester. Now it’s not normal for a community college to have a blacksmithing program, this is one of the only programs in the country and I was very lucky to be exposed to it, I owe William a lot and there’s a reason he’s a world renowned blacksmith. Once I bought a house with my wife out in the country I started working for myself at my home shop, making swords, axes, knives, to more practical stuff like fireplace screens, window bars, hooks/hardware, and I also do some welding for people around town as well.
[Editor’s note: Jason’s blacksmithing works can be purchased at the Hammerhall Forge Etsy page. You can also follow the Hammerhall Forge Facebook page for updates and Jason’s personal Instagram where he posts many of his creations.]
There are many people and zines, us included, who refer to Eternal Champion as one of the leaders of a new generation. Do you think this is the case yourself? What other modern bands would you consider to be torchbearers?
We can only hope to be mentioned in the same breath as leaders like Visigoth, Atlantean Kodex, Altar Of Oblivion and Wrathblade.
The last, but certainly not least, band to close out the North American essentials section is the Salt City-forged Visigoth. They stand alongside Eternal Champion as the face of epic heavy metal, with virtually no other band in this style matching their popularity and reach. Visigoth’s key to success is no secret at all – their songs are powerful and catchy as all hell while retaining the same passion and respect for the music that bands like Eternal Champion demonstrate. In the decade since their inception, Visigoth have released two EPs (Final Spell, Bells of Awakening) and two full length albums (The Revenant King, Conqueror’s Oath) each exploring a different, but equally excellent sound.
With a cover of Omen’s legendary “Battle Cry” on their initial 2010 Vengeance demo, Visigoth have always worn their influences on their sleeve. Their sound is a melting pot of influences ranging from Grand Magus to Manilla Road to Grave Digger, but like every great band, their sound is their own at the end of the day. With a songwriting approach that gives plenty of room for vocal lines to drive the music, vocalist Jake Rogers is the centerpiece to Visigoth’s style. His range and timbre is incredible, lending itself naturally to epic heavy metal. From the doomier and more epic The Revenant King to the triumphant and upbeat Conqueror’s Oath, Rogers’ vocals are impactful and central to Visigoth’s sound.
Recommended listening: The Revenant King, Conqueror’s Oath
An Interview with Jake Rogers
Jake Rogers is the vocalist for Visigoth and his talent and prowess as a singer speaks for itself. In addition to Visigoth, Jake is the sole member of melodic black/folk metal band Gallowbraid. From obscure band shirts to an expansive record collection to a vest adorned with classics to bands that span across drastically different styles, Jake is a musician that has clearly shown a love and appreciation for metal of all varieties.
There’s a lot that goes into Visigoth’s signature style of epic metal, with a wide range of influences that include the likes of Manilla Road, Twisted Tower Dire, Excalibur-era Grave Digger, and Grand Magus just to name a few. What’s the songwriting process like and how do you guys synthesize all these influences to create that epic sound?
Our songwriting process typically involves one of us writing the basic sketch of a song at home, bringing it to the rehearsal space, and reworking it as a band until we arrive at a finished product. Personally, I find it helpful to track out songs at home first because I think having a visual representation of what I’m working on helps me with arrangements. It’s also pretty common for one of us to show up to rehearsal with a chorus, verse, or intro written and then jam around it as a band until we form a song. Insofar as working our influences into our songs goes, I honestly think we’re pretty heavy-handed with it – at rehearsal, we are saying things like ‘let’s take it from the Thundersteel riff and stop right before we get to the Battle Cry section’ all the time. For example, when I write a riff with triplet palm mutes that I want Mikey to follow with big fat tom hits, I will say ‘hey, put the Bathory drums under this part!’ (if you know, you know!). We have absolutely zero qualms wearing our influences on our sleeves – we love heavy metal music and we love the bands that inspire us to write and perform, so of course we want to pay homage and give credit where credit’s due!
Speaking of influences, from the cover of “Necropolis” to involvement with the Manilla Road documentary a few years ago to the recent participation from Jake in the Mark Shelton tribute, it’s pretty clear that Manilla Road are a major one. What is it about Manilla Road that has inspired so many bands in the underground? What was it like being involved with the tribute show for Mark Shelton at Keep it True 2019?
I think Manilla Road became as influential as they did because they’re one of those rare bands that are truly inimitable. When a Shark solo comes through your speakers, you know precisely which band you’re listening to. No band really sounds like them and no band ever will. Mark’s unique vision was something that will never be reproduced, and I think that in and of itself is inspiring. There’s also the fact that Manilla Road is absolutely a ‘full package’ band – the music, vocal style, lyrics, and artwork are all inextricable from one another and serve to craft a truly encompassing swords-and-sorcery atmosphere, and I think this is one of the primary direct influences their albums have had on bands in the epic heavy metal underground. For Visigoth specifically, I don’t think we sound anything like Manilla Road at all (many bands who cite them as an influence don’t actually sound like them and I think that ties back into their sound being truly one-of-a-kind), but I still consider them to be an absolutely essential inspiration and influence. Not only did their music touch a lot of lives, but so did Mark himself. I can’t even truly describe what it felt like to be involved in the tribute show, but there was a spirit of reverence and camaraderie there that I don’t know I’ll ever really experience again. I don’t even know exactly how to answer this question without feeling like I’m doing the entire event a disservice – for those who were in attendance, the feeling was alive, vibrant, and indescribable, and seeing so many people reveling in Mark’s life work, in his music and the legacy he left us with… it was nothing short of overwhelming and wonderful. I can’t really put it into words, but I’ll never forget it and I’ll be eternally grateful to Brian, Randy, Rick, Neudi, Phil, and the extended Manilla Road family for inviting me to participate. It means the world. Always will.
From 2010’s Vengeance demo to 2019’s Bells of Awakening EP, Visigoth’s sound has gradually grown and evolved in the last decade. What are you guys trying to accomplish with each subsequent release?
Honestly, our primary focus is just writing songs we think are good enough to put in front of an audience. We do like to give ourselves ‘rules’ – for example, with Conqueror’s Oath, many fans noticed that the songwriting was more concise than on The Revenant King. That was the result of us specifically writing with the 12” LP format in mind. Since many of our favorite bands were writing and releasing albums during an era where the LP was the standard format, we wanted to see what it would be like to put ourselves in the headspace of writing with the same strictures bands would have had before the digitization if music changed things. We wanted the release to be a single LP in order to keep costs down for fans and as such we turned our focus toward trimming the fat off of our arrangements in order to make sure the release comfortably fit on a record. As we move forward into writing our next record, we’ll likely come up with a new set self-imposed rules as I think it helps inspire creative focus.
Relative to the rest of your peers, Visigoth opts for a cleaner production and guitar tone. What’s the reason behind this stylistic choice?
I suppose it simply best suits the USPM-rooted sound that we tend to espouse. What’s important to note here is that ‘clean’ doesn’t mean ‘manufactured’ – our records are absolutely and completely human insofar as the performances you’re hearing; we don’t use any kind of pitch correction on my vocals, we don’t use triggers or quantize Mikey’s drums, none of that sort of ultra-clinical (read: sterile) studio trickery. We’ve worked with the same audio engineer for The Revenant King, Conqueror’s Oath, and Bells of Awakening, and we have really enjoyed working with him because he has a similar ethos to us – he doesn’t even have a single piece of vocal pitch correction software installed on his rig. I guess I’ve never stopped to really consider why our sound might be ‘cleaner’ than other bands in this style. We just do our best to wind up with a production approach that supports the songs themselves.
Visigoth’s success since 2015’s The Revenant King firmly places you guys as flag-bearers at the forefront of the new generation – as far as I know you’re the most popular newer band that cites epic metal and us power as prominent influences. Has this relative popularity changed the way you guys think, view, or approach music?
It must not have, because I don’t think I’ve ever considered us to be the most popular band who wear these types of influences on our sleeves! I feel like I can think of a good handful of bands who cite epic metal influences who are ‘bigger’ than us (or at least certainly feel that way to me), but that could of course be a perception warped by the fact that I’m in the band and don’t have a neutral perspective on it. Honestly it’s kind of odd to think of things in those terms, but it definitely hasn’t changed a single thing about the way we write music. We still have the same process, turn to the same influences, and focus on putting our best foot forward every single time we play live. It has definitely changed the way we look at the background non-music stuff – i.e. the ‘business’ side of being in a band, which is absolutely my least favorite part of all of this – but that’s about it. Honestly, none of us could have possibly predicted where this would take us when we first formed this band and were playing to tiny crowds in Salt Lake City dive bars on the weekends. It’s a bit surreal to me and I’m not sure that’ll ever really wear off. But that’s the great thing about this type of heavy metal – you really can’t fake it, and if we were to change our style to ride some sort of popularity wave, fans would know right away and that’d be the end of it for us. We’ll always be a heavy metal band, no more, no less, and that’s just the way I want it to be.
In regards to epic heavy metal, do you see there being a ceiling (popularity, reach, influence, etc.) for such a niche style? Why do you think bands in this style haven’t historically achieved “mainstream” success?
I do think so, simply because it isn’t exactly music for everyone. I realize that Visigoth’s wider appeal likely has a lot to do with the fact that our songwriting tends to be a bit more straightforward than many other bands in this style (and I say ‘this’ style somewhat loosely because we’re as much a USPM band and traditional heavy metal band as we are an epic metal band), but a lot of bands playing epic heavy metal have a much more obtuse approach to songwriting which does lend it a certain niche appeal. And that’s perfectly fine, because I have a hard time believing that a single epic metal band has ever been formed with the intention of raking in millions. This is music that requires a singular passion, obsession, and dedication, album sales and royalty checks be damned.
As mentioned earlier in the article, it is not feasible to discuss all epic metal releases in detail. However, you can find an assortment of quality releases below by expanding on the “other bands” text. Included here are a number of South American bands as well. While the bands from South America are too few and far apart to be featured in their own article, they still deserve a mention.
The below section is broken into two separate segments: Demos/EPs and additional worthwhile albums. Check the bands below to continue your journey into the North (and South!) American epic metal scene.
- Avalon Steel – Ascension
A shortlived, but excellent epic metal band taking equal influence from classic US power metal, epic metal, and EUPM.
- Baron Steele – Minotaur’s Lair
There’s a very good reason that this demo appeared in my top 10 US power metal demos and was specifically called out by Jason Tarpey. There’s just 2 songs here but the compositions are magnificent and the vocals in particular transcend a typical demo. Imagine Mercyful Fate crossed with Manilla Road.
- Blind Assassin – Put to the Sword
Powerful, crushing demo in the style of Manowar’s more epic moments.
- Chalice – One Final Sin
This demo only band out of New Jersey left us only a handful of demos, but even with such little material their legacy outweighs many. Like Baron Steele, this demo compilation was featured in my top 10 US power metal demos for its superb songwriting.
- Dark Age – Dark Age
A short lived band that released just one EP in 1984. This lone EP stands as one of the best from its era and although the epic moments aren’t frequent, tracks like “Tales of Medusa” are simply amazing – so much so that it was responsible for naming the band listed in essentials!
- Elfspell – Elfspell
A strange, but welcome take on epic/heavy doom featuring John Gallo (Orodruin, Blizaro)
- Ezra Brooks – Target; Gods, Men, and Death
One man project from Shon Vincent (Smoulder, Gatekrashör, ex-Manacle, Hrom). Tales of Medusa are the primary influence, but you can hear plenty of other epic heavy metal in the mix. All of the material released thus far is excellent so be on the look out for the eventual full length!
- Graven Rite – The Summoner’s Pit
An excellent one EP epic metal project featuring Jason Tarpey of Eternal Champion on vocal/lyrical duty. There are many similarities to Eternal Champion, but Graven Rite’s material in general is more mid-paced and doomy.
- Majestic Ryte – Majestic Ryte
Brilliant mid-paced, anthemic band for fans of Virgin Steele and Medieval Steel.
- Possessed Steel – Possessed Steel
Canadian based band that plays a good mix of both uptempo and doomy material. As it currently stands, they have two EPs to their name with their self-titled standing a bit above.
- Solar Eagle – Charter to Nowhere/Solar Eagle
A small and obscure band from Canada with just an EP and demo under their belt, but the material is fantastic. They play a more mid-paced take on the progressive US power metal of bands like Heir Apparent and Crimson Glory.
- Stone Dagger – The Siege of Jerusalem
This band features a number of scene veterans from bands like Magic Circle, Sumerlands, Innumerable Forms, and Torture Chain. With such a stacked line-up, it comes as no surprise that this two track demo is an absolute killer. The self titled track is among the very best released this decade and more material is bound to come down the line.
- Stormbringer (Illinois) – Stealer of Souls
A brilliant sword&sorcery themed demo centered around Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga. Released in the early 90s, this demo came at a precarious time and was brushed aside, but rest assured that the songwriting here is excellent.
- Throne of Iron – 2018 Demo, The Crypt of Blades
Inspired by Mark Shelton’s legacy, Throne of Iron was formed shortly after his passing by Tucker Thomasson. As one would expect, the band’s sound is absolutely drenched in Manilla Road influence, but with plenty of nods to modern bands like Eternal Champion and Visigoth. To date, they’ve released a demo and split with a full length coming soon via No Remorse Records.
- Tribe – Tribe
Tribe are a rather obscure demo band from the US that featured members of Upwards of Endtime. Compared to some of the other bands here, their sound is more straightforward, sharing similarities with the more aggressive side of US power metal. Rest assured though, this demo is high quality.
- Twisted Tower Dire – Triumphing True Metal
Normally I don’t consider Twisted Tower Dire to be an epic metal band and with many full lengths under their belt, they certainly aren’t a demo only band. However, their material prior to the debut was much more mid-paced, atmospheric, and epic in nature. The Triumphing True Metal demo in particular features haunting female vocals which are a departure from the typical upbeat, but masculine vocals on all the other TTD releases.
- Witchkiller – Day of the Saxons
A band with lots of similarities to US power greats like Warlord, Manowar, and Omen.
- Axe Battler – Axe Battler
Chilean band drawing influence from the likes of Omen and Running Wild.
- Battlerage – Blood, Fire, Steel
A gritty take on epic metal also from Chile like Axe Battler, these guys are closer to the style of Manowar.
- Brothers of Sword – United for Metal
Featuring a number of members from the Brazilian metal scene, Brothers of Sword is an open love letter to the likes of Manowar and Manilla Road with plenty of similarities to Ironsword.
- Chastain – Ruler of the Wasteland
Including Chastain, a fast paced, shredding power metal band, here in this guide might appear a bit odd. However, Ruler of the Wasteland in particular features plenty of moments where Chastain pump the breaks and give us more epic moments like “Angel of Mercy”.
- Coven 13 – Worship New Gods
Coven 13 blend elements of gothic, doom, and heavy metal and drench it in an occult, esoteric atmosphere. Although off-kilter, this band will appeal to fans of bands like Cirith Ungol.
- Crescent Shield – The Last of my Kind, The Stars of Never Seen
Playing a more modern take on US power metal with plenty of epic moments, Crescent Shield were the precursor to bands like Eternal Champion and Visigoth. They released two excellent albums before disbanding due to the tragic death of vocalist Michael Grant.
- Darkblack – The Sellsword
Incredibly fast-paced and epic, Darkblack share similarities with Borrowed Time despite pre-dating them.
- Emblem – Emblem
Up-tempo epic metal band that are the second coming of Crescent Shield. Their self titled debut is a great listen that demonstrates strong musical chops.
- Gatekeeper – East of Sun, Grey Maiden
Gatekeeper first released their Prophecy and Judgement EP all the way back in 2013 and have been steadily growing since then. Last year saw the release of their debut album East of Sun and earlier this year we got the Grey Maiden EP. Gatekeeper have only gotten better with each subsequent release and the future is very bright for this band.
- Grey Wolf – Glorious Death
A Brazilian one man project worshipping the true metal of yore. There’s a ton of Manowar, Manilla Road, and Omen influence to be found here.
- Ice Sword – Dragon Magic
I discussed Ice Sword earlier this year and my feelings are very much the same – this is an album that takes a bit to get used to, but shows incredible songwriting prowess and potential. Blending elements of epic metal, euro power, and us power, this album has a bit of everything for fans of the style.
- Ice Vinland – Masters of the Sea
Mixing elements of progressive, power, and epic metal, Ice Vinland are perhaps the closest band to Enchanter, who were mentioned above in the essentials section. Their debut album Masters of the Sea is fantastic for fans of Manilla Road, Manowar, and Fates Warning.
- Instigador – La Edad Oscura
I came across this Argentinean band entirely by accident, but I was thoroughly impressed with what I heard. Their lone 2012 release is a great example of how uplifting and bright epic metal can sound while still retaining its roots. Its nothing groundbreaking, but this band definitely deserves more love!
- Illegal Bodies – Mindflayers
What happens when you take Slough Feg and douse it in black metal influence? Well Illegal Bodies is the end result of that! Although a little rough around the edges, Mindflayers is a ridiculously addicting album with tons of nuance to dig into.
- Krull – The Black Coast
These Brazilians play a burly take of epic heavy metal akin to Ironsword. There’s plenty of similarities to fellow countrymen Greywolf.
- Lazarus Sin – Intracranial Mass
A progressive and esoteric take on power metal, Lazarus Sin share similarities to bands like Manilla Road, Brocas Helm, and Slauter Xstroyes.
- Legendry – Mists of Time, Dungeon Crawler
Legendry are a band that really doesn’t hide their influences. They love Manilla Road and that’s a damn good thing. They have two very solid albums under their belt with a third along the way and set for a release later this year.
- Longings Past – Meadows of Mesilaya
Longings Past are a post-Enchanter band with a duo of albums released in the mid 90s. While Enchanter’s sound was more aggressive in nature, the band dialed it back for Longings Past.
- Lordian Guard – Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
Lordian Guard are the brainchild of Bill Tsamis of Warlord fame. The music is very similar to early Warlord, but there’s an even bigger emphasis on religion in terms of subject matter and lead guitars in regards to music. This is in addition to the fact that Lordian Guard’s defining feature is the odd, but charming female vocals performed by Tsamis’s late wife.
- Lords of the Crimson Alliance – S/T
Like Tales of Medusa, Lords of the Crimson Alliance are a band whose real identities aren’t known. There aren’t a lot of bands to compare them to, but Manilla Road and Coven 13 would be the closest. Lords of the Crimson Alliance are a very strange band and their music takes a while to get, but it makes for a rewarding listen once you finally do.
- Odax – Odax
Taking a storytelling approach, Odax are doom-laden band who place heavy emphasis on swords & sorcery lyrics.
- Poseidons Anger – War of the Gods
Poseidons Anger have been around for a while without much fanfare, but their music is definitely worth a listen. With dual vocal, interesting melodies, and varied pacing, their debut album War of the Gods is a pretty solid offering.
- Realmbuilder – Blue Flame Cavalry
Realmbuilder are strange even in a genre filled with oddities. With incredibly unconventional song structures, riffs, and melodies, their music has a certain charm to it. There isn’t really a good reference point to compare Realmbuilder to, it’s just a band that you have to listen to yourself.
- Skelator – Agents of Power
Skelator have been speed metal champions since 2000, but they took a bit of a different direction with 2012’s Agents of Power. This album chronicles the journey of Michael Moorcock’s Elric and showed us an even more deliberate and epic side to Skelator. In my opinion, it stands as the band’s mightiest effort.
- Skullview – Legends of Valor
Dark and crushing – Skullview represent the evil underbelly of epic metal. There’s simply no other way to describe their debut which draws from a wide range of influences, even death metal like Bolt Thrower.
- Smoulder – Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring
Debuting just a few months ago, Smoulder are one of the most promising young bands in the scene. Powerful vocals, fast-paced bangers, incredible production, and plenty of DOOM – this band has everything you could ask for in epic metal. We ran an extensive feature on their debut album, Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring, earlier this year – check it out for more!
- Thunder Rider – Tales of Darkness and Light
Closing out the article in style, we have Canada’s Thunder Rider. They sit on the more melodic side of epic heavy metal with many similarities to Warlord. This is one of the few bands to extensively use a keyboard and its done incredibly well. Highly recommended for fans of early US power metal.
Igor · August 4, 2019 at 7:54 am
Never heard about Tales of Medusa. Thank you!
Igor · August 4, 2019 at 2:56 pm
Ohh…there are more unknown bands in additional listening. Avalon steel are cool too!
Marco · August 4, 2019 at 11:31 pm
Glad you’re finding plenty of new bands!
Jason Manning · August 4, 2019 at 9:29 pm
Fascinating reading and it’s great to be able to fill some massive gaps in my music repertoire. Another YouTube playlist would be lovely…
Marco · August 6, 2019 at 2:33 am
Hi there Jason, thanks for your support! I’m really glad to have helped you find some more music 🙂 . I went ahead and updated that first playlist with the essentials here as well (and aptly renamed it to “Epic Heavy Metal Essentials”). I’ve made a 2nd playlist that I will keep updated as well for all of the “additional listening” (EP/Demos/Other albums). You can find playlist #2 here:
Noman Chaudhry · August 12, 2019 at 4:33 pm
ooh boi, with the Mediterranean next, we get DoomSword!