The 10 best '80s metal bands you've never heard of
10 unsung heavy metal heroes from the 1980s
The '80s is rightly regarded as a glorious period for metal. Some of the biggest bands of all time made their mark during this decade while others have become cult heroes, celebrated as a huge influence on what came later.
But there are also those bands who, despite their quality, never had the impact they deserved. Here we recall ten of these names, from the NWOBHM era to thrash and power metal. All are worth investigating. Go on, give them a blast. You might be about to unearth something special.
From the more melodic end of metal, this West Midlands band had the potential to follow in the footsteps of Budgie and Thin Lizzy. Managed by original Judas Priest drummer John Hinch, they had the track Hard Lines featured on the 1980 compilation Metal For Muthas II: Cut Loud, having already released the exciting Seven Days Of Splendour EP. A second EP, End Of Part One, came out later the same year. But Jameson Raid always seemed to be just too far ahead of their time, and split up in 1983, reforming in 2010. Now, the band sound so obviously commercial, it's hard to understand why they failed.
While the Slayer we all know and love were helping to define thrash, this band in San Antonio were making their own impact. The release of the Prepare To Die EP in 1983 showed the Texan Slayer to be much more of a power metal band, with even hints of prog metal. They recorded an album called Go For The Throat in 1984, but this wasn't released until four years later, because of record label problems. And the band were forced to go under the name of S.A. (San Antonio) Slayer, due to the threat of legal action. Not that it really mattered, as they had split up in 1984, just after playing a show with the more famous Slayer, under the banner of 'Slayer Vs. Slayer'!
In a six-year period from 1980, the Californian metallers had tracks on both the Metal Massacre II and Metal Massacre III compilations, and released two impressive albums. Deliver Us in 1983 set a high standard in the mix of progressive and classic '70s metal influences. This mini-album was followed a year later by the full-length And The Cannons Of Destruction Have Begun, one of the most creative and mature metal records of the time. There was also a mystique about the band, which helped propel their reputation. However, a failure to keep a stable line-up together eventually undermined Warlord, who fell apart in '86. Reunions in 2002 and 2011 never recaptured the early power and charisma.
Without Helstar, American power metal might have sounded very different. Formed in 1982, the Houston band hit hard with 1984's debut album Burning Star. Two years later, with a different line-up, they were equally as aggressive on the Remnants Of War album. But the band reached peak at the end of the '80s when, having relocated to LA and signed to Metal Blade, Helstar recorded the albums A Distant Thunder (1988) and Nosferatu (89); the latter was partially conceptual, inspired by the Dracula novel. Unfortunately the band lost focus after this, and eventually split up in 1995. There was a reunion six years later, since which they have had several line-up changes, but have never truly come close to recapturing the spirit and power of their '80s heyday.
A German thrash band formed towards the end of the '80s, Grinder suffered from coming along after the halcyon days of German thrash, so, they were overlooked. But their first two albums, 1988's Dawn For The Living and 89's Dead End, deserved a lot more attention than was given to them at the time. Energetic and ferocious, in some respects Grinder were anticipating what Machine Head would do a few years later. It was a case of being ahead of their time. Incidentally, Grinder made history by being the first international metal band to play live in Turkey.
Hobbs' Angel Of Death
Mainman Peter Hobbs once described the Aussies' sound as being “virgin metal” – because he felt it was pure. It's a bold claim, and while you could hear whiffs of Euro thrash in what the band were doing, they were propelling indigenous Aussie metal forward in the late '80s. Their self-titled, debut album was released in 1988 by SPV/Steamhammer and had a major impact. It was among the best thrash albums of that year, bringing the potential they'd shown on their earlier two demos, Angel Of Death and Virgin Metal Invasion From Down Under, to the boil. But they could never really follow this through, and split up in 1995. There was a reunion in 2002, which is still ongoing, but it's that first album which holds the key to their belligerent excellence.
Technical thrashers from Germany, Mekong Delta were formed in 1985, and since then have followed their own progressive path, firmly remaining outside of the usual thrash scene, and refusing to conform to any genre. Their first three albums were astonishing. So different to anything else around at the time, these records nodded towards Voivod and Cynic, but had their own volatility. It's worth hunting down copies of Mekong Delta (1986), The Music Of Erich Zann (1988) and The Principle Of Doubt (1989). The band are still ongoing, and have carried on making fascinating and challenging albums, but it's those early records that set the foundations.
If you know of this Mansfield band at all, chances are it's because Metallica have covered Let It Loose, thereby making it Savage's most renowned song. But the band's 1983 debut album Loose 'N' Lethal is among the very finest examples of British metal from that era. In fact, it was very much a proto-thrash record, and should have been the springboard for an exalted career. As it was, Savage split up in 1986 after releasing one more album. They reformed in 1995, but have never regained the quality they showed on that debut, which stills stands as one of the few classic British thrash style albums.
The Belgian band, led by vocalist Kate De Lombaert, were formed in 1980, and released two highly-rated albums three years later. Both the Acid and Maniac records were full of fierce, primitive riffs, tackling subjects such as Satanism and sex with a real zest. Acid took the influences of Motörhead and Venom and developed these with a formidable confidence. But despite the obvious qualities in the band, they split up in 1985, after putting out one more album, Engine Beast, that same year. But it was on those earlier albums that you can hear the full flavour of Acid's instinctive approach.
For a time in the early '80s, Picture were on the verge of leading Holland into an exciting era of metal. Formed in 1979, their first two albums Picture 1 (1980) and Heavy Metal Ears (1981) were thrusting, heavy and had a cutting edge British sound. They became a little more sophisticated on 1982's Diamond Dreamer, but thereafter lost their way with a style that became too slick and glam oriented. The band eventually split up at the end of the '80s, reforming in 2007, but without much success. Picture's peak period was definitely in those early days, when they were among the best heavy bands in Europe.