This is the third 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. The second installment took a deeper look into other North American bands that fall under the epic heavy metal banner and it included interviews with Jake Rogers of Visigoth and Jason Tarpey of Eternal Champion. This third installment examines the scene from Italy and Greece.
The Mediterranean, known for its beauty and deep history, is a breeding ground for epic heavy metal. With such a culturally and historically rich environment, it comes as no surprise that Greece and Italy are hotbeds for this type of music. The sheer density of bands from these two countries necessitates an installment of their very own in this series.
What is included in essentials and what isn’t?
This section is re-purposed from the second installment in order to provide context to new readers, skip this if you’ve already read this material!
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 other 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 highlightingbands 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.
Anyone who has been exposed to Greece’s metal underground knows that the country’s passion for traditional and epic metal is unmatched. To help us understand how this became the case, I asked two very knowledgeable and passionate Greeks to give a brief summary of the development of epic heavy metal in their country.
The below introduction was co-authored by Panos Anagnostopoulos, a key part of Ride Into Glory’s editorial team, and Andreas Andreou, the editor/author of the Crystal Logic blog, a regular contributor at Metal Hammer Greece, and a part of No Remorse Records – a label responsible for many of Greece’s epic metal releases.
Popularization of Epic Heavy Metal
Greeks are passionate about metal music. Greeks are passionate about their cultural heritage which is full of epic and mythological themes. Epic metal was a marriage bound to happen. However, contrary to tradition, the appeal of the subgenre to the crowd didn’t start with the local bands themselves, instead it was influenced by the American bands like Manowar, Warlord, Manilla Road, and Brocas Helm who were in a way introduced to the fans early on by the metal press, something that helped the popularity that these bands enjoy even today. So, here is a little story about how everything started:
It is important to mention the influence of Greek metal magazines like “Heavy Metal” and later “Metal Hammer” when they joined forces. During the late 80s and early 90s, we encounter the first time the self-identification as “epic metaller” as opposed to “thrash metaller” and “heavy metaller”. A prominent figure of the Greek metal scene back in the day was Metal Hammer’s editor Charis “Sun Κnight” Prasoulas, who introduced Warlord to the majority of the Greek metal crowd, popularized Manowar even more and people even go as far as attributing to him the creation of the term “Epic Metal”. It is safe to assume that most people in Greece started to consider themselves as “epic metallers” after reading his column who apart from music reviews extended to the ideals that epic metal represents. Sometimes in a wrong way, especially if you will bring those texts in the context of 2019. Younger audience members of Ride into Glory will find it hard to believe how influential an author or a magazine could be, but back in the day Metal Hammer was (and probably still is) the glue that holds the Greek metal community together and the main source of information about bands and albums.
While the digital age and social media made “information” easier to access for the masses, until mid to late 90s, things weren’t so easy and we can’t even imagine how difficult the 80s were. It is important though, to understand that every age needs to be approached differently and according to its facts and how people were viewing music at that time. For example, there was an old review about Manilla Road’s Mystification and the editor back then also mentioned “gothic metal” in his text. If someone will bring this review in the context of 2019, it will look wrong and funny. But in 1987, when Gothic Metal wasn’t even a subgenre and with Mark Shelton lyrics focused in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, it makes sense. Of course, the albums of bands like Manowar were already in Greek record stores back in the 80s, not just as imports but also as Greek pressings, so people in Greece were already familiar with them. Warlord were also released by Metal Blade Records, so you also had access in them but Metal Hammer brought those names to a wider audience. The magazine didn’t introduce them to the fans but helped many people search for them and created a new generation of “epic metallers”. On the other hand, Brocas Helm were actually first introduced to the Greek metal fans by Metal Hammer magazine thanks to the editor Andreas Veneris and his column “Underground Metal”. During the 90s, Metal Hammer also delivered free CD albums and compilations (accompanied with the magazine) to the Greek audience, including Candlemass, Manilla Road, Heir Apparent, and more, and many more young fans were introduced to the likes of “epic” and underground metal.
Another important moment was back in 1999 when Metal Invader magazine released a CD of Sarissa’s 1987 demo as a promo of their monthly issue, which helped to popularize a Greek epic metal band to the masses. Even today, 20 years after the reissue, this demo is one of the most well-known 80’s Greek albums amongst the local crowd, and we have to thank Metal Invader for that.
Along with those magazines, Greece was also known for some very important fanzines of the 90s and 00s, like Power Metal, Singing Swords and Steel Conjuring, that really introduced to the Greek audience (and not only) the majority of epic and underground metal, older and most important the new bands of that time, like DoomSword, Battleroar, Ironsword, Cauldron Born, and countless more.
However, despite the fact that major printed magazines were important back in the day (they still are, if you want our opinion) controversy is always raised. And always will be when media or bands stray from each individual’s taste, ideas and beliefs.
Essential Greek Bands
Sarissa – Sarissa
The below sections on Sarissa and Northwind were also authored by Panos (the biggest Sarissa fan I’ve ever met!)
Taking their name from the famous spear that Alexander the Great’s army used during his campaign, Thessalonican band Sarissa introduced themselves to the metal world with their 1987 demo which since serves as a paradigm of Greece’s epic metal quality. The band stood out from many bands of the Hellenic scene that even the German label NOISE records contacted them to add Sarissa to their catalog, something that was considered unthinkable for other Greek metal bands at that point.
Fast paced, passionate and spearheaded by George Hatzisimeonidis’s unique voice, Sarissa doesn’t have absolutely anything to be jealous about when they are compared to other European or US metal bands. Their sound could be described as fast-paced Warlord meets Queensryche’s EP. The booming bass of Jimmy Selalmazidis is always on the spotlight, always leading the attack, while guitar duo of Kazakis and Mamalitzidis share skillful solos and commanding riffs.
Northwind – Mythology
Northwind began their career in the early 80s and steadily built a small but hardcore fan base, mainly because of their intense live performance. The ruckus they created caught the attention of record giants Polygram which released their first album in 1982 titled Northcomin’. However, heavy metal was still something very new at that time and wasn’t exactly received as well as it was in the UK or the USA, which resulted to poor distribution and thus low sales. Northwind continued to play live shows and in 1986 they released their landmark album titled Mythology, which as the title suggests, deals with fantasy themes lyrically. Songs like “Stop, Sisyphus Stop”, “Medea”, Achilles’ last Stand” drew inspiration directly from the Greek mythology and arranges perfectly by the band’s riff-driven guitar duo. Their music can be described as easy going NWOBHM meets Deep Purple and Rainbow with many classic rock influences as well.
The album was met with a very positive response even abroad, something which led the band to the decision to visit the UK to promote their album, again something very uncommon for a band from the musically secluded Greece. Various struggles with managers and promoters resulted in arguments inside the band which led to their eventual hiatus. An interesting trivia is that the band never managed to play in Athens back in the day, something not extremely uncommon for bands from the northern part of Greece and vice versa. Their absence would eventually come to an end, when the band played live at Up The Hammers festival in 2018.
Recommended listening: Mythology
Enjoying relatively notable international success and recognition, BattleroaR are perhaps the best known band from Greece’s epic heavy metal scene and with good reason. They were founded in 2000 and have been active since. With five fantastic full length albums and nearly two decades under their belt, BattleroaR have comfortably established themselves as a driving force in epic heavy metal.
BattleroaR released their self titled debut in 2003 and with its varied song structures and fantastic riffs, it gave us the first taste of what they were capable of. Drawing heavy influence from the likes of Manilla Road and Omen, it was an open declaration of love for the classics. BattleroaR’s next two albums built upon the debut and showed great development in songwriting with both Age of Chaos and To Death and Beyond… standing as some of the best albums to come out of Greece’s epic metal scene. There were some line up changes following the release of BattleroaR’s third album and this led to a different sound on the subsequent albums.
BattleroaR’s fourth album, Blood of Legends, incorporated new elements such as a violin and moved the band in a more symphonic direction to accentuate their new vocalist Gerrit Mutz. Their latest album, Codex Epicus, dropped the violins, but lived up to its name with its focus on mid-paced tracks and immense backing choruses. Each of BattleroaR’s five albums has its own story to tell and gives you something a little different.
Εξόριστοι, translated to “Exiles” in English, are an abnormality in the Greek scene. They debuted in 1989 with their self-titled album and were not only one of the first epic heavy metal bands from the region, but they were the first metal band to sing in Greek. Choosing to sing in the native language brought mixed reception for Exoristoi and caused some in the scene to disregard them. For Greeks, singing epic themes in their own language is a little odd.
Language choices aside, it’s difficult to completely ignore the great music on Exoristoi’s debut album. The sound on this album is a heavier, more epic version of progressive rock in the same way that early Manilla Road and Legend (US) is. The songs range in heaviness with some that are clearly not quite metal, but the ones that make the cut are extraordinary.
Recommended listening: Exoristoi (Εξόριστοι)
Much like Exoristoi’s debut, Crush’s Kingdom of the Kings is an oddity – the Greeks have never been ones to conform to norms when it comes to heavy metal music. After a decade of toiling away in the underground, Crush’s one and only album was released in 1993, during what is far and away lowest point for metal of this style. The song structures are unconventional and with a production and mix that are muddled and bury the vocals, the end result is an album as esoteric as it is epic.
Kingdom of the Kings‘ production and style gives it an undeniable charm. The overall sound of the record is darker than most Greek bands listed here, which tend to be on the brighter side. Stylistically, Crush sound something like a mix of Dark Quarterer and Manilla Road with a dash of Mercyful Fate thrown in. Despite their idiosyncratic approach to music, there’s just something very engaging about Crush’s songwriting style that will make you want to come back again and again.
Recommended listening: Kingdom of the Kings
It’s impractical to remain unbiased when discussing something as inherently subjective as music. Therefore, I have absolutely no qualms saying that Wrathblade are not only one of my favorite modern traditional metal bands, but they are my favorite Greek band in this genre as well. They only have two albums and a handful of other releases under their belt and yet they’ve already proven themselves to be worthy of such praise.
Wrathblade’s unique sound draws from a variety of influences; from the epic, unconventional song structures of Manilla Road to the bouncing riffs of Slough Feg to the crushing riffs of DoomSword. They take the template established by these legendary bands and infuse it with their own brand of Greek muscle to create a compelling and unique sound. The songs are incredibly diverse as they cycle between mid-paced epics, beautiful acoustics, crushing doom and up-tempo gallops. Nick Varsamis’ unique, charismatic, and charming vocals add the extra bit of flair to the music and make Wrathblade one of a kind.
Every release, including the single, demo, and split from Wrathblade is worth listening. Of course though, the two albums are the best listening experiences. Their debut, Into the Netherworld’s Realm, is more aggressive overall than its successor. God of the Deep Unleashed has a more refined production and a bigger emphasis on mid-paced tracks. Both of them are excellent and 100% essential listening.
[Editor’s note: Check out Raging Storm (along with a few other similar ones mentioned in the “additional listening” section) for more material that’s very similar Wrathblade. This is guitarist Chris Mosalos’s previous band!]
Airged L’amh are one of Greece’s most underappreciated bands. They originally started their career all the way back in 1987 under the name Ragnarok, they wouldn’t release any material until 1997’s A Vertigo Edda Arised (later re-issued in 2002 with bonus songs as One Eyed God). Taking stylistic cues from Blind Guardian, incorporating folk music, and abandoning Greek mythos in favor of Celtic and Nordic ones, this gave us the first glimpse of what Airged L’amh were all about.
Fast forward to 2004 and we have the release of The Silver Arm, Airged L’amh’s magnum opus. This took the style of the debut and kicked it up a notch in every way. The songs are ambitious, complex, fast paced, and catchy immediately bringing to mind Blind Guardian’s magnificent Somewhere Far Beyond. Ode of Salvation, the 2008 follow up to The Silver Arm, kept the core Airged L’amh sound in tact, but explored a more melodic direction. With three solid albums in their discography, there’s plenty of quality material for people to dig into.
Marauder are a great example of a band that’s very well known at home, but not abroad. They’re a mainstay in Greece’s underground metal scene and it’s pretty easy to see why. Their break out sophomore release is an upbeat epic version of Grave Digger titled 1821 and features a brilliant song titled “The Greek Revolution Begins”. I’m not even Greek, but I can’t help vicariously feeling a sense of pride and love for my own homeland. The pure energy and passion on this album is infectious.
While 1821 stands clearly as Marauder’s highest point, it’s not the only album of theirs worth listening to. They have six albums in total that explore various sounds within the realms of epic heavy and power metal. With the addition of a new vocalist in Nikos Migus Antonogiannakis their latest album, 2016’s Bullethead, stands out in particular as a late career highlight.
Recommended listening: 1821
An Interview with Nikos Migus A. of Omen and Marauder
Nikos Migus Antonogiannakis is the current vocalist of not one, but two essential epic metal bands mentioned in this series – Omen and Marauder. His talent really speaks for itself. With a singing style that’s as rough around the edges as it is epic, Nikos carries on the warrior spirit in the same way that the late and great J.D. Kimball did. The below interview with Nikos was conducted by one of our editors, Panos Anagnostopoulos.
In your opinion, what are the top Greek Heavy Metal Albums?
First of all thank you for the interview. I definitely have to say Power Crue – Stay Heavy, Sarissa – Sarissa and Marauder – 1821. They all had great impact on me when I first listened to them.
What are your favorite Epic Metal Albums? What makes them special?
Well that’s a tough one. Virgin Steele – Marriage pt1 and Noble Savage, Manowar – Into Glory Ride, and Omen’s The Curse.The power and the atmosphere in those albums is phenomenal.
Why do you think Epic metal is so popular in Greece, and why there are so many high quality Greek Epic Metal (GEM) bands?
Oh, I think it’s in our DNA. Greeks have all this huge history that makes it impossible not to write
songs about it. You can feel it in everyday things. The only thing you have to do is just to take a walk around the Acropolis and you’ll write a masterpiece.
Do you see any differences now to the G.E.M. scene compared to you when you were starting your career?
The quality of the musicians has changed for sure. It’s easier to be a skilled musician nowadays with all these informations coming from the internet. The song writing on the other hand it’s a different subject.
Did bands like Sarissa, Northwind and the rest of the legendary GEM bands influence you? Do you see bands like Marauder and Wrathblade being influential on the latter generation of musicians?
I was most influenced from U.S Power Metal bands to be honest. Sure there was a lot of bands I was listening to. Marauder and Sarissa were some of them. As for the impact that bands like Marauder and Wrathblade made, I can’t be sure. Wrathblade is definitely a kick ass band like most bands of that Era.
You sing about heroes, battles and swords in both Omen and Marauder, it seems that you made Epic Metal part of your everyday life. Do you read heroic fantasy books/ watch movies? What are the images that you create in your mind when you are performing and where do you draw inspiration from?
I’m huge movie maniac!! It’s a cliche but LOTR my all time favorite movies and books! I’m sure you get this a lot but when I perform I feel like I’m in a dream. A different part of me takes over.
For example when I sing “The Curse” with Omen I totally get in character. Losing space and time every time.
When you are performing with Omen abroad, do get a lot of questions regarding the GEM scene?
Not a lot of questions to be honest but a lot of people come up to me and show me their respect for the Greek Metal Scene
Where do you see GEM scene in 10 years from now?
Hard to tell. I’m worried for the whole heavy metal scene. It sure has changed the last 10 years and I can’t imagine how much different would be in 10 more years.
In Kenny Powell’s MA page it says that he was born in Athens. Can you give us some more information about that? To your knowledge, has this influenced his songwriting?
The first time Kenny went to Greece, he felt like home. His dream is to move to Greece at some point. In our upcoming album there will be a song for that first time!
You can find an assortment of quality releases below by clicking on the text . Included here are a number of Greek bands that were not mentioned in the previous “Essentials”. The below section is broken into two separate segments: Demos/EPs and additional worthwhile albums. Check out the bands below to continue your journey into the Hellenic epic metal scene!
Demos and EPs
- Ageless Wisdom – Demo 90
We just have two songs from Ageless Wisdom, but they’re magnificent. It’s Manilla Road worship through and through and given the 1990 release date, they are one of the first bands to heavily take influence from the ‘Road.
- Alpha Centauri – Return of the Herakleids
It’s no secret that the Greek style of Black Metal draws heavily from traditional metal, with many bands veering into epic territory. Two of the most prominent figures of the Greek black metal scene are Archon Vorskaath of Zemial and Eskarth the Dark One of Agatus. They wrote and recorded some epic heavy metal songs together in the 90s under the name Alpha Centauri and that material has recently been released properly!
- Arpyian Horde – From Olympus…
Much like Alpha Centauri, Arpyian Horde are a two song band consisting of incredibly talented musicians. With members of bands like BattleroaR, Marauder, Wrathblade, and Wishdoom, it’s evident why these two tracks are just amazing. Well worth the listen!
- Anxiety – The Descent of the Myriads
With varied songwriting, killer riffs, and anthemic vocals, this demo is a great representation of what hellenic epic metal sounds like.
- Black Sword Thunder Attack – Promo 2015
Do you like Warlord and Lordian Guard? Well, Black Sword Thunder Attack certainly do. They’ve been re-recording the same songs across the last decade as they inch closer and closer to the eventual full length, but don’t let their pace deter you from listening. The guitar leads and songwriting here are some of the very best in the entirety of Greece. Keep a close eye on these guys because when the full length comes, it will be massive.
- Bloodlust – Bloodlust
There isn’t a lot of information out there about Bloodlust other than the fact that they put out a lone, self-titled demo in ’94. However, you don’t need a lot of color to know that these guys absolutely love their early US power metal.
- Dragon’s Lair – Dragonheart
Dragon’s Lair love traditional metal of all varieties and they show it here with Dragonheart. They blend elements of US power metal and Euro power metal for an epic sound in the vein of BattleroaR and Twisted Tower Dire. With their cover of Loudness’s ” Heavy Chains”, these guys aren’t afraid to draw influence from all over the globe.
- Fatal Morgana – In Quiet Us
Relative to the rest of their peers, Fatal Morgana are much more progressive in their songwriting with strong similarities to early Fates Warning, but with stronger epic undertones. This puts them in good company with Adramelch, a band that is discussed in the Italian essentials of this article.
- Guardian Angel – Travelling by the Wings of Eternity
Guardian Angel put out a handful of minor releases in the 90s before disappearing. They gradually changed their sound and style throughout their career and moved in a more progressive direction over time, but their earliest demo is a great example of the Greek style of epic heavy metal.
- Hands as Wings – Man Must Fall
Awful name, good music. Hands as Wings released a lone EP in 2018 to very little fanfare. The music here is much better than all of that. Their style is much folkier and doomier than their peers with similarities to bands like DoomSword and early Slough Feg.
- Macedon Harriers – Rise Again
Raw, fast, and epic. It’s rough around the edges, but the songwriting on Rise Again is amazing. The songs are fast bangers, but are somehow still incredibly catchy with anthemic vocals. The lo-fi demo production can’t bury the sheer quality here.
- Sacrament – Untamed, Free Spirit
It’s a shame that Sacrament have to be listed under the “demo” category – they are the perfect example of a band that should have made it, but didn’t. With superb, varied songwriting and a run time of 45 minutes, Untamed, Free Spirit feels much closer to an album than a demo.
- Achelous – Macedon
Originally formed in 2011, it wouldn’t be until last year that Achelous put out their debut album titled Macedon. With nice acoustics, guest vocals, and keyboards, Achelous add a bit of their own touch to the classic Greek sound.
- Agatus – The Eternalist
Agatus are a mainstay in the Hellenic black metal scene with classics like Dawn of Martyrdom and The Weaving Fates. Their sound has always had a strong traditional metal undertone, but the release of 2016’s The Eternalist marked a strong shift even further in that direction. The Eternalist is a strong mix of epic heavy metal, black metal, and progressive rock, creating for a unique listening experience.
- Arrayan Path – Terra Incognita
Formed in the late 90s, this group of Cypriots has been around for a while and has put out 7 albums of Euro-power infused epic metal. They all offer something a bit different, but Terra Incognita stands as one of their career highlights.
- Black Soul Horde – Tales of the Ancient One
Black Soul Horde debuted onto the scene in 2013 with the release of their debut album Tales of the Ancient One. Released by No Remorse Records, this album fit perfectly into their catalog of epic metal bands. The songs are aggressive, heavy on the bass, and varied in structure, making this album a great listen.
- Blood Covered – Wrong Direction
Blood Covered don’t fit the epic heavy metal mold in the same way that most Greek bands do. There’s a strong dose of thrash metal in their style that brings to mind a Celtic Frost mixed with viking-era Bathory or Manowar. Their lone LP is a pretty unique record that’s well worth the listen!
- Braveride – Heroic Deeds
Manowar worshipping, slow-burning Greek epic metal with three albums under their belt. After the debut, Braveride would move more towards a symphonic, European power metal driven sound.
- Dark Nightmare – The Human Liberty
Playing a similar tremolo picking heavy, bouncing style of riffage, Dark Nightmare are the brighter, more up-beat cousin of Wrathblade. All 3 of their albums are worth the listen with their debut The Human Liberty standing a bit above the rest.
- Darklon – Rise from Death
With the release of Rise from Death earlier this year, Darklon are the newest arrival to Greece’s epic metal scene. Playing a classic style of mid to fast paced epic heavy metal, Darklon fit right in with the rest of the Greek scene.
- Embrace Fire – Savage
Embrace Fire fall into the same category of muscly and bouncing epic heavy metal like Dark Nightmare and Wrathblade. They unfortunately released only one album back in 2006, but Savage is a fine example of how to do epic heavy metal right.
- Raging Storm – Raging Storm
Raging Storm released just a lone album back in 2002. Their style of music puts them in the same category as Embrace Fire, Dark Nightmare, and especially Wrathblade. In some ways Raging Storm were a sort of precursor to Wrathblade as guitarist Chris Moustakakis played in both bands. In fact, the similarities in sound are so strong that this 2003 song by Raging Storm would later be re-used on Wrathblade’s 2012 debut. Raging Storm are a must for those who enjoy that style of Greek epic metal!
- Reflection – Sire of the Storm 7″, The Fire Still Burns
Formed all the way back in 1992 and with 4 full length albums under their belt, Reflection have become a mainstay in the underground Greek metal scene. Their albums are all very solid, with The Fire Still Burns standing out as a highlight, but there’s something very magical about their Sire of the Storm 7″ single. The raw passion and energy of those two tracks is undeniable.
- Sacred Blood – The Battle Of Thermopylae : The Chronicle
Epic and cheesy, but in the best way possible. Sacred Blood combine influences from all over including a heavy dose of European power metal ala Grave Digger.
- Solitary Sabred – Redemption Through Force
Solitary Sabred’s sound is deeply rooted in US power metal with a sound that takes clear influence from the likes of Helstar and Cauldron Born and infuses it with mid-paced, epic undertones.
- Stormbringer – Among the Flames of War
With their fast paced riffs and Elric themed lyrics, Stormbringer’s style immediately bring to mind Skelator’s Agents of Power. Among the Flames of War is a great album if you’re looking for a speed metal edge to compliment the epic themes.
- Validor – Dawn of the Avenger
Listening to Dawn of the Avenger, you would never guess that this is just a one man band. Declaring their music to be “blood metal”, Validor sound like you’d expect – fast and aggressive. There are plenty of folk touches in Validor’s sound to give their songwriting some flair and the end result is simply amazing.
- War Dance – Wrath for the Ages
War Dance’s debut is a shining example of how the Greek scene mixes influences so well. Warlord, Manowar, Atlantean Kodex, Sarissa – you’ll hear a little bit of everything inWrath for the Ages and that’s definitely a good thing.
Much like Greece’s metal scene, Italy is rife with epic metal. The Italians have always had a flair for the dramatic in their music and this manifests itself here in their metal scene as well. The primary musical influences found permeating the scene are Manowar, Warlord, and Manilla Road – a fantastic selection to draw from if you ask me!
Essential Italian Bands
Adramelch stand right alongside Dark Quarterer as one of the first epic heavy metal bands from Italy. Much like Dark Quarterer, their music leans very heavily on the progressive side of the spectrum. Adramelch have four albums in total under their belt, but they released just one album in the 80s, Irae Melanox, and it stands as a pillar of the classic Italian metal scene.
The songwriting on Irae Melanox is incredibly complex, but it doesn’t fall into the trap of complexity just for the sake of complexity that many progressive metal bands find themselves in. The closest comparison point for this album is a more epic version of Fates Warning’s The Spectre Within, prompting some in the scene to refer to Adramelch as “Italian Fates Warning”. The songwriting prowess displayed on Irae Melanox is mind boggling. The guitar leads are the stars of the show and there’s often two different, intertwining melodies being played at once all with Vittorio Ballerio’s brilliant vocals layering on top. This album is often critiqued for its thin production, but when the musicianship is at this level it doesn’t matter – production can’t take away from the brilliance of Irae Melanox.
Recommended listening: Irae Melanox
While most Italian epic metal bands play a mid or up-tempo style of music, DoomSword take the Manowar and Manilla Road roots in another direction. As you can glean from their name, DoomSword’s brand of epic heavy metal is dripping with crushing epic doom in the vein of Candlemass. DoomSword aren’t afraid to show their love of viking-era Bathory either, there’s plenty of folk influences in their music that pay homage to Quorthon’s most epic moments. [Editor’s note: Check Gjallarhorn, a side project of 3 members of DoomSword, for more Bathory influenced epic metal.]
DoomSword have five absolutely massive full length albums to date and every single one of them is essential. Resound the Horn and Let Battle Commence stand the tiniest bit taller than the rest, but I emphasize the fact that they’re all essential listening – I even often find myself marathoning them! Each album brings something a little bit different to the table and for those looking for more up-tempo material, their latest album, The Eternal Battle, ups the pace noticeably.
With five excellent albums under their belt, Domine are one of Italy’s premiere power metal acts. Their journey started all the way back in 1983. Domine released a number of demos through the 80s and 90s, but their debut album, Champion Eternal, wasn’t released until 1997. I’ve discussed this release in length before, but it has to be emphasized just how unique this album is.
There’s nothing else in the world that truly sounds like Champion Eternal. After nearly 15 years of toiling away with demo after demo, Domine released a torrent of pent up creative energy and the end result is an epic heavy metal masterpiece. The songs are rooted in traditional metal, but there’s a big emphasis on storytelling and there’s a heavy dose of the Italian style of dramatic power metal. Champion Eternal is as equally dark and foreboding as it is epic.
Domine’s Subsequent four albums take on a more typical European power metal sound, but the brilliant songwriting, sword & sorcery/Elric themed lyrics, and epic undertones are all still there. While all four of these albums are great, Stormbringer Ruler – The Legend of the Power Supreme shines as a highlight from this era of Domine.
Recommended listening:Champion Eternal, Stormbringer Ruler – The Legend of the Power Supreme
Battle Ram’s first foray into the epic metal world was a short 5 song self-titled demo in 2003. Given that one of these tracks is a Cirith Ungol cover, this demo represented only 20 minutes of original music, but that’s all Battle Ram needed to leave a mark on the underground scene. The songs are fast paced, catchy, and aggressive in the same way that classic era Manilla Road is. With a remarkably good production and a piercing, crunchy guitar tone, Battle Ram’s self titled demo certainly doesn’t feel like one.
It wouldn’t be until 10 years later in 2003 that we finally received Battle Ram’s highly anticipated debut album titled Long Live the Ram. The full length stylistically followed in the footsteps of the debut and the songs are nearly as brilliant. However, the original 2003 demo still has a very special place in my heart and the hearts of many epic heavy metal fans.
Playing grandiose hymns in the vein of Manowar’s Into Glory Ride and Hail to England, Holy Martyr are the perfect band to ride into battle with. Their approach to metal has always been simple: straight forward riffs, a marching rhythm section, soaring vocals, and absolutely no frills. You know exactly what you’re going to get with every Holy Martyr release and that’s amazing epic metal.
Holy Martyr been around since the mid 90s, but their debut album Still at War came in 2007. This record brought us that Manowar style slow burn and gave us a number of mid-paced anthems. With the release of 2008’s Hellenic Warrior Spirit, they varied their songwriting a bit more with different tempos. To date, Holy Martyr have 4 records under their belt and with each of them bringing something a bit different they’re all worth the listen.
Wotan have been around in the Italian scene since 1988 and released their first demo, Thunderstorm, in 1993. While this essentials section focuses primarily on full length releases, much like Battle Ram’s self-titled demo, Thunderstorm is one of the finest releases in the entirety of the Italian metal scene. Taking their cues from Manowar and Manilla Road, Wotan unleashed a storm of creative energy on this demo. At just under 30 minutes with brilliant writing and a raw energy that wasn’t quite captured with the re-recordings on later releases, Thunderstorm is a must listen.
Carmina Barbarica, the band’s debut album, was released in 2004 and gave us a proper recording of a number of the demo songs as well as many new ones. Wotan’s other two albums, Epos and Return to Asgard, are worth exploring as well. There’s a double album titled The Song Of The Nibelung coming later this year with a full 18 new tracks so keep your eye out for that!
I said in the previous installment of this series that I would specifically avoid listing any bands as essential if they released their debut album in the last couple of years. There just hasn’t been enough time yet to really be able to grasp the relative impact of these bands. I also mentioned that there is a lone exception. Vultures Vengeance are that exception.
The quality of musicianship displayed on the band’s 2019 debut album, The Knightlore, and their previous 2016 mini-album, Where Time Dwelt In, is just out of this world. Vultures Vengeance are so far ahead of most of their peers that I have no doubts that they deserve a spot in this feature alongside other Italian greats. Their music draws influence from a variety of sources both within and outside their scene. You’ll hear equal amounts of epic metal legends like Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road in addition to Italian mainstays like Adramelch and Dark Quarterer, but like with any truly great band, Vultures Vengeance have a sound entirely of their own.
Dark Quarterer are Italy’s most important epic metal act from both an innovation and influence perspective with many Italian bands such as DoomSword, Holy Martyr, and Vultures Vengeance citing them as key influences. Formed all the way back in 1974 as Omega Erre, they are also one of Italy’s earliest metal bands. They changed their name to Dark Quarterer in 1980, but it wasn’t until 1987 that we saw the release of their landmark eponymous debut.
Dark Quarterer’s self titled debut album stands as one of the finest examples of epic heavy metal not only among Italy’s rich scene, but anywhere in the world. The songs are long, sprawling, and experimental in nature with deep roots in 60s and 70s progressive rock. Each instrument is brought to life and tells an epic tale of its own through the music with Gianni Nepi’s soaring vocals guiding us through the journey. Pure magic.
Their next major release, The Etruscan Prophecy, came just one year after the debut. Don’t let the short turnaround time fool you though – it’s just as brilliant as the debut. After the release of 1988’sThe Etruscan Prophecy, guitarist and songwriter Fulberto Serena left the group and much later formed Etrusgrave in 2004. With the departure of Fulberto, Dark Quarterer decided to more fully embrace their progressive rock roots with subsequent releases. The music is less epic, but the brilliant songwriting skills are certainly still there.
An Interview with Dark Quarterer
Dark Quarterer’s impact on epic metal cannot be understated. Their musicianship and talent is self evident with a style that is truly inimitable. The following interview with Dark Quarterer was transcribed from a conversation conducted in person at Up the Hammers 2019 by Panos.
You formed the band in the late 70’s and you started writing songs during the early 80’s. How was the scene in Italy when you began?
Gianni Nepi: We had 2 or 3 bands which were quite famous.. Death SS, Dark Lord, and Adramelch. Domine hadn’t released anything yet but they existed. These were the most important bands that were formed in Italy. Oh and Strana Oficina too. But not all of them played epic metal like we did, some of them were more power or maybe more progressive.
So you consciously categorize your first two albums to be on the epic side of metal
Gianni Nepi: I can’t remember if we made that choice consciously but it was important to us to make our music and lyrics different from anything else. We started by listening to bands like Black Sabbath, but at the same time we were also into bands like Gentle Giant.
I think I can hear just a bit of King Crimson in your music, am I right?
Gianni Nepi: Yeah King Crimson as well. So I’d say (our music) it was a mixture of all those things and we also added the epic elements, and I think it was the first time that epic and progressive were mixed in metal.
It’s definitely one of the first attempts. Were you in contact with any of the other bands that you mentioned earlier, was there anything like a scene back then?
Gianni Nepi: No because we are from a secluded part of Italy, a small town near river Elba called Piombino of approximately 30.000 people. It was difficult trying to create music there. No recording studios, no music schools. So we spent a lot of time with each other, working over and over on our songs, trying to create the best metal possible of our time. So we were our school. We didn’t play concerts- just in front of our friends.
So you didn’t have any other bands back then to play live shows
Gianni Nepi: Festivals were non-existent in our area, we organized a few concerts on our own with other bands.
When has that band that played covers transformed to the band that would define epic metal in Italy?
Gianni Nepi: It was 1980. We started composing songs. Our first song wasn’t good. Our second wasn’t good either. Our third song was “Dark Quarterer”. And after that, everything became easier for us because we found our sound.
Apart from music, would you say that there are other things in your life that influenced the epicness of Dark Quarterer?
Gianni Nepi: Definitely. We live in an area that Etruscan people once lived, a civilization shrouded in mystery. We don’t have a lot of information about their scriptures, their culture, unlike Romans that we know everything about them. They are the reason that there is this epic feeling in the area that we live.On the other hand, in the same area we have a steel factory that once provided jobs for over 10.000 people, but also was the cause for air pollution. So we grew up in the contrast of a very beautiful city that once cheered you up and at the same time it makes you angry because you feel that everything will be destroyed at some point. So the feeling of good vs evil, the creation vs destruction is one of the factors that create the epic feeling in our music.
Following your first two albums, Dark Quarterer sound started to move away from the epic metal sound, incorporating more progressive metal elements. Was this change intentional?
Gianni Nepi:The main composer of the first two albums was Fulberto. When he went away, it was impossible for the music to stay the same. I was not willing to write music that sounded like it belonged to someone else. So we took the risk and i like where we end up.There is a pattern in Dark Quarterer’s music, there is intensity , and there is a high point where everything comes together.
Gino Sozzi (DQ manager): Every Dark Quarterer song tells a story, a story that each time is different than the previous one. So you will never never listen of the same topic twice.
Gianni Nepi: In pop music you hear about the same topic over and over: love, love, love. It’s the same concept for 10.000 songs. Each time we choose to talk about something else I know it’s difficult but we must.
What does the name Dark Quarterer mean?
Gianni Nepi: In medieval times a quarterer was a man who cut cattle, something like a butcher.
What came first, the song or the band name?
Gianni Nepi: The song, we were called Omega Erre before we change our name.
Dark Quarterer have been a very influential band for the european epic metal. Do you follow any of the bands that you have influenced?
Gianni Nepi:There are a lot of bands that have been inspired by us. I like DoomSword a lot. I used to teach Deathmaster in singing over Skype (Editor’s Note: Gianni Nepi maintains a very successful music academy), he was in Ireland and I was in Tuscany and we spend 1,5 years together.
Gino Sozzi : We are friends with DoomSword, I am trying to organize a festival with them and Dark Quarterer, we came close to it last year but last minute it didn’t happen, so we will try again until it does.
Paolo Ninci: We played two times together one time in Florence open Air Festival and one time in Como.
Francesco Sozzi: Also Holy Martyr!
Gianni Nepi: Yes I remember when Holy Martyr were starting their career they would mention they have Dark Quarterer influences.
How do you see the Italian metal scene today?
Gino Sozzi : Metal is going to a different direction from back in the 80s. Today the term epic is just one aspect, not the main thing about the music. It’s about following a trend and about the show.
Francesco Sozzi: And anywhere you look there are death metal bands!
Gianni Nepi: I think there are bands that are very good today but they stay within the boundaries of their local areas. There is a band called Epitaph which I like very much, they play doom but with an epic feeling. I think we share the same doom feeling with them.
Gino Sozzi : Sometimes I get invitations for Dark Quarterer to play in a doom festival, and I wonder why, because we don’t consider ourselves to be a doom band. But I think that’s because other doom bands like Dark quarterer’s music (laughs)
Perfect that’s all guys is there anything else you want to add?
Gianni Nepi: We are currently writing a new concept album, we have some songs recorded, the theme will revolve around the last day of Pompeii, be sure to watch out for the release.
Like the segment earlier in the article, you can find an assortment of quality releases below by clicking on the text. Included here are a number of Italian bands that were not mentioned in the previous “Essentials”. The below section is broken into two separate segments: Demos/EPs and additional worthwhile albums. Check out the bands below to continue your journey into the Italian epic metal scene!
Demos and EPs
- Assal – Wings of Terror Demo
Assal are a one man project with just a couple of demos under their belt, but this pair of demos shows a passion for the scene with a range of influences such as Manowar and Thunderstorm. Wings of Terror even features a small guest vocal session from Fabio “Thunder” Bellan the vocalist of Thunderstorm and Temple of Pain.
- Evil Zone – In the Valley of the Diamond’s Sword
With a lo-fi production that would make any bedroom black metal band jealous, In the Valley of the Diamond’s Sword is a demo through and through. Underneath the all the rough lies great songwriting and powerful riffs. Evil Zone were the precursor to the power metal band Dragonia, but while Dragonia took a much more modern and European approach to music, this demo is far more straightforward and epic metal in style.
- Jotenheim – Jotenheim
I find myself coming listening to Jotenheim regularly over the years and with very good reason. Consisting of members from DoomSword and Battle Ram, Jotenheim’s lone EP is just as good as you’d expect it to be. It’s a rough, aggressive, and no-frills take on epic heavy metal. With an opening track appropriately titled “Skullcrusher” the tone is immediately set for this perfect example of barbaric epic metal.
- Mob Rules – Demo
Named after the legendary Dio-era Black Sabbath album, it’s pretty clear where Mob Rules get their inspiration. With a release date of 1988, their lone demo is one of the earlier examples of epic heavy metal from Italy. Stylistically, the music is something of a mix of Dark Quarterer, Manowar, and Black Sabbath. A must listen for fans of the scene!
- Steel Age – Steel Age
Galloping, mid-range riffs and with a name like Steel Age, you’re in for a good time.
- Wyxmer – The Sire Of
The Sire Of is an odd little EP, but that’s what makes it fit so well. Its progressive, doomy, and atmospheric putting it somewhere at the cross-section of Dark Quarterer and Paul Chain.
- Assedium – Rise of the Warlords, Fighting for the Flame
Assedium were around for only a few years in the mid 2000s, but they left us with two fantastic albums in Rise of the Warlords and Fighting for the Flame. Manilla Road, Manowar, Virgin Steele, Battle Ram, Twisted Tower Dire… if these amazing names mean anything to you then definitely listen to Assedium!
- Avoral – War is Not Over
With songs that are dramatic to the max, Avoral channel a similar energy to fellow countrymen Domine on their first and only album War is Not Over. Unfortunately, the band broke up a couple of years after its release, but at least they left us something to dig our teeth into.
- Axevyper – Into the Serpent’s Den
Axevyper play uptempo and rough anthems, bringing to mind bands like Omen, Ravensire, and Manilla Road. With a career that spanned nearly a decade (2009-2018), Axevyper left us with 3 great albums. Their final effort, Into the Serpent’s Den, proved to be their best and showed a band that was constantly growing.
- Berserker – Blood of the Warriors
The band’s name is Berserker and the album is titled Blood of the Warriors… I think it speaks for itself what kind of music you’re in for! Formed in 1989, Berserker have been around for quite a while, but didn’t release their debut album until 2007. It’s bass heavy and aggressive bringing to mind Domine and Skullview’s debut albums.
- Darking – Sons of Steel, Steal the Fire
Formed by Agostino Carpo, Domine’s guitarist on their first three demos, it comes as no surprise that Darking following in their footsteps. While Domine evolved to a more standard European power metal sound later on in their career, Darking’s music is more akin to Champion Eternal and the early demo years.
- Etrusgrave – Masters of Fate, Tophet
Etrusgrave were founded by Fulberto Serena, a former guitarist and songwriter of Dark Quarterer, a number of years after his departure from the band. It follows very closely in the footsteps of the first two Dark Quarterer releases. Highly recommended listening for fans of DQ!
- Guardiani di Frontiera – Guardiani di Frontiera
Unfortunately, very little is known about Guardiani di Frontiera other than the fact that they’ve been around since the late 90s and gave us their self-titled debut in 2005. Its epic and mid-paced with symphonic touches and unlike most bands here, Guardiani di Frontiera sing in their native Italian.
- Gjallarhorn – Nordheim
Nordheim is the result of four viking-era Bathory fanatics getting together and unleashing pure creative energy. With 3 members of DoomSword, it only makes sense that Gjallarhorn are able to nail this sound perfectly. Nordheim is 40 minutes of epic bliss that is a must if you’re a fan of DoomSword, Bathory, Ereb Altor, Scald, Atlantean Kodex, etc.
- Hagel Stone – Where Is Your God Now?
Where is Your God Now? Well, the only Gods that Hagel Stone seem to worship are Manowar and Virgin Steele. Their debut album is drenched with drama and makes heavy use of keyboards ala mid-era Virgin Steele.
- Icy Steel – Icy Steel
With 14 years and 5 albums under their belt, Icy Steel are scene veterans at this point. Their style of alternating between break neck pace and slow burn puts them comfortably with fellow countrymen such as Wotan and Darking.
- Martiria – The Age of the Return
Martiria are similar to Domine in the sense that they’ve been around since the 80s, but they took quite a while to debut. The Eternal Soul was released in 2004, but Martiria have steadily put out albums since with the sophomore (and best in my opinion) album coming in 2005. Stylistically, Martiria are closest to Warlord and Lordian Guard with their heavy emphasis on lead guitars.
- Morgana – Lady Winter
Morgana have been around since the late 80s playing kick ass epic heavy metal. Their self-titled EP came out in 1988 with their debut album, Lady Winter, following quickly after in 1989. Morgana’s biggest differentiating factor are the fantastic vocals of Roberta Delaude. Musically, Morgana sound like Warlock playing classic Italian epic metal and its just as cool as you’d expect..
- Ordalia – Return of the King
Originally playing a thrashier sound and going under the name No Rules, Ordalia have been around since the late 80s. They eventually released their one and only album Return of the King in 2000 where they fully embraced a more epic sound with Lord of the Rings themed lyrics to boot. The bass on Return of the King is very active and has a number of unique lines bringing to mind bands like Cirith Ungol and Quicksand Dream.
- Rosae Crucis – Worms of the Earth
Rosae Crucis are also veterans of the Italian scene. They released a handful of demos in the 90s and early 2000s before arriving at their debut album Worms of the Earth in 2003. They play fast paced and dramatic power metal ala Domine’s Stormbringer Ruler album.
- Ryal – Alliance
Delivering a rough, but triumphant style of epic heavy metal on their debut album Alliance, Ryal fit in nicely with fellow countrymen Wotan and Holy Martyr.
- White Skull – Tales from the North
White Skull, a band that squarely fit into the symphonic style of European power metal, aren’t normally what you’d think of when you consider epic heavy metal, but as we discussed in our Women in Traditional Metal feature Tales from the North showed a much different side of the band. The songwriting is more ambitious and inspired here and it shouldn’t be written off by those who’d normally avoid this type of European power metal.
- Xipe – Fly Phoenix
Xipe were an early Italian metal band that released their one and only album, Fly of Phoenix, in 1986. There’s plenty of Iron Maiden influence here with the cover even resembling Powerslave’s despite the lyrical content that was more focused on the Aztecs rather than the Egyptians. Overall though, the songs are varied and a bit progressive in nature, also bringing to mind fellow countrymen Adramelch.