We Have The Power Presents: The Top 50 US Power Metal Releases Of All Time, Part 1

A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to write about the outstanding new album from Greece’s Sacred Outcry—a process that naturally involved a fair bit of groundwork and exploration into all manner of classic power metal, including the early US interpretation of the off-shoot. Upon completion, I realized my power bender really didn’t want to loosen its grip, so I kept going, and going, and going… Which eventually lead to a brash statement behind closed doors at LR HQ akin to, “You know, I think I could probably make a Top 100 Power Metal Albums of All Time list based on my current listening habits, and that list would include USPM.”

Hey, we all love making lists, and our favorite lists are those that relate to our favorite things. A great many of us do it in relation to music every year, and in the case of the Last Rites crew, we do so on a weekly basis in our super top secret, brain-meltingly magical Discord channel without the benefit of the public eye peeking in. Know this: When someone amongst the LR crew throws down a gauntlet concerning any sort of current Best Of list, the remaining crew holds that person to it, and if they don’t deliver said list at some point for examination / heavy condemnation, the offending party is flogged and forced to take part in a Walk of Atonement, Cersei Lannister style. Yeah, not really beneficial to anyone on the planet.

SO’S ANYWAY. There I was, wringing my hands and plotting all the wonderfully grim spells I would need in order to concoct my impenetrable list when it suddenly dawned on me… This is fucking impossible!

Okay, not impossible, but certainly… Unnecessarily uncomfortable. I have been listening to power metal—the US strain and its more familiar cousin that unfurled following the release of Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I in ’87—pretty much from day one, and attempting to cram both sides of that particular time line into one tidy list proved to be an exercise in futility, so I decided to commence thusly:

» The Top 50 Most Essential US Power Metal Releases of All Time
» The Top 100 Most Essential Power Metal Releases of All Time Outside Of USPM

This of course meant more work, but the results allowed me to sleep sans grief. The top 50 USPM list is obviously on tap first, broken into two parts, and I’m honestly not quite sure how to deal with the other list because the idea of blurbing about 100 albums on my own makes my head spin right now. Suffice to say, I will do whatever time allows, and at the very least I will publish the top 100 sans blurbs.

If you’re new to the game or would perhaps appreciate some sort of a USPM introduction, the following will act as your 10¢ summary…

A) US power metal is largely a backwards looking phenomenon, meaning it didn’t really take hold inside the vernacular until well after many of these bands made their dents on the scene back in the ‘80s. Sure, some publications tromped out the term back then, mostly as a descriptor, but it didn’t really become an accepted and official off-shoot until piles of people decided it was necessary in order to gain some sort of separation between what bands like Manowar and Helloween rendered. There are shared tendrils between USPM and, for lack of a better word, Euro power, but there are enough differences to make individual lists reasonable.

B) The original USPM movement involved a relatively small faction of bands (though it didn’t seem all that small at the time) that took what was laid down by the NWOBHM, itself an amplification of punk and hard rock, and very simply punched things up with a more power: more aggressive drumming, more vigorous riffing, expanded melodicism, and of course plenty of potent singing. A concentration on fantastical elements and vocal acrobatic abilities were and still are favored, but it’s not a rule that’s fully set in stone.

C) Things become more complicated because USPM pretty much grew directly alongside speed and thrash metal, often getting its peanut butter in their chocolate and vice versa, making the sussing of details and drawing of lines an often prickly debate for anyone who fancies themselves some sort of historian or expert on heavy metal. Purists are, of course, total bastards about it, which is fine, and others are possibly too loose with the definition, which is also perfectly okay… to an extent.  For the purpose of We Have the Power and this list, one defining element I decided to hold fast to is this: The bands need to be from these United States.  I realize the off-shoot now exists as a “moderately difficult to discern” style played by bands all over the world, but doing it this way made things a little easier (on me), plus it gives an opportunity to shine a light on some bands that landed beyond the relatively brief 1983-1989 window.

Okay, here are the official Three Rules to the Game:
» One album per band
» Bands need to be from the United States
» Ranked only by year (Top 25’s are fine, but don’t trust publications that want you to believe there’s a value difference between an album that lands, say, 43rd as opposed to 44th)


Look for part 2 next week, and the Top 100 companion power list at some point in the not-too-distant future.



Manilla Road – Crystal Logic [1983]

[Cover artwork: John Jinks]

It’s old news at this point, but Manilla Road didn’t actually get a proper chance under the spotlight until a particularly explosive set at the Bang Your Head 2000 festival in Germany all but demanded broader attention for these perpetual lords of the underground. How could a record as glorious, valiant, melodic and adventurous as Crystal Logic NOT catch the ears and hearts of a label better equipped to deliver it to the masses 40 years ago? Beats the hell out of me. But unlike an endless parade of other starving artists who blinked away long before crucial recognition, at least the ol’ Road eventually did feel fortune’s sweet light upon their heroic pates, and no show featuring the sorcery of Mark “The Shark” Shelton ever parted without songs such as “The Riddle Master,” “The Veils of Negative Existence” and the absurdly anthemic “Necropolis” being howled to the rafters by a sea of equally valiant and hungry fans.

Primitive origins: Wichita, KS
Label: Roadster Records
Sample: “Necropolis

Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche EP [1983]

[Cover artwork: Wes “Griz” Griswold]

I have college radio to thank for my first introduction to Queensrÿche. Discovering bands this way was a regular occurrence for many of us back in the early / mid ‘80s, as scads of us spent Friday and / or Saturday nights pinned to the lower left of the dial and suddenly discovering fiendish works from the likes of Mercyful Fate, Exciter, Venom, etc. ad infinitum. On one particular night, though, it was “The Lady Wore Black” that glided like a graveyard mist from my modest clock radio speaker, and I was instantly caught under its spell. Finding the LP in my local shop only amplified the excitement, because as simple and unadorned as the EP’s cover art appeared to be, it still did the trick of adding to the dark mystery of the band, and it also underscored what I still consider to be one of the most appealing logos in all of metal. As luck would have it, the full breadth of the EP’s 18 short minutes matched that closing cut’s powerful stride, and even 40 years later (!!!) the spell remains just as strong as when it first drifted from that humble little speaker.

Primitive origins: Bellevue, WA
Label: EMI America
Sample: “Nightrider” (OFFICIAL VIDEO)

Warlord – Deliver Us [1983]

[Cover artwork: Maureen Martin]

In a world where Mad Max’s Thunderdome is indeed a reality (R.I.P. Tina Turner, you absolute queen), and where Dr. Dealgood spouts his ever beloved phrase, “TWO MEN ENTER, ONE MAN LEAVES,” the battle between the Queensrÿche EP and the Deliver Us EP to determine early USPM supremacy would be an absolute bloodbath. A strangely tranquil bloodbath, mind you, given the notably drifty magick at play by both combatants, but a bloodbath nonetheless. To be clear, both releases can and should be considered 10/10 representations of “supernatural atmosphere,” but where ol’ Tater pulls an almost unfair advantage over the hugely underrated performance of Damien “Jack Rucker” King I in the vocal department, Bill “Destroyer” Tsamis regains momentum for Warlord by delivering some of the smoothest and most necromantical fretwork ever laid to wax. Luckily, in this case, “Two bands enter, BOTH bands leave,” because Tina made it pretty clear she doesn’t need another hero, and no one should ever have to choose between two perfect champions.

Primitive origins: Los Angeles, CA
Label: Metal Blade Records
Sample: “Child of the Damned

Armored Saint – March of the Saint [1984]

[Cover artwork: Gareth Williams]

Coming off a pretty dazzling debut EP in 1983, the crew behind LA’s Armored Saint was excited to take the world by the marbles with an even more powerful opening full-length in March of the Saint. Similarly stoked, Chrysalis Records hitched Michael “Not That” Jackson to the production helm, whose previous work with KISS very much seemed in line with Saint’s bombastic approach to punishing speakers, but the results were, according to the band, surprisingly commercial and decidedly less heavy than they’d hoped. While it’s true that the overall sound behind MotS feels a little thin, particularly with regard to the drumming, that does little to mitigate the thunder behind rollers such as “Mad House,” “Seducer,” “Mutiny On the World,” and the opening title track. The whole of the record is unafraid of being deliberately straightforward, but listening to it today still delivers a very unique snapshot of the times—one that sounds very “‘80s” in both execution and in the way its production vulnerabilities almost proudly jump out. Adding to the singular charm: John Bush attacks the mic like a Rottweiler forced to skip breakfast.

Primitive origins: Los Angeles, CA
Label: Chrysalis Records
Sample: “Can U Deliver” (OFFICIAL VIDEO)

Brocas Helm – Into Battle [1984]

[Cover artwork: Reissue preferred over the original dud, but still uncredited]

Entangled ‘neath an even heavier blanket of obscurity than fellow blacksmiths Manilla Road, San Francisco’s Brocas Helm has spent the better part of the last four decades hustling incidental gigs at whatever local dive will have them and absolutely tearing the roof off with one of the most explosive shows you’ll see from a three-piece comprised of creaky knights long-since retired from the Round Table. And while I would say their greatest gift to heavy metal remains their combustible live performance, it only takes about 10 seconds after hitting play on their 1984 debut to witness the full strength of classic US power metal. Little known fact: If you play “Ravenwreck” for Peter at the pearly gates, you will get 10 years of free access to Heaven’s executive pool and enough Bolivian marching powder to drop a bull elephant.

Primitive origins: San Francisco, CA
Label: First Strike / Steamhammer
Sample: “Ravenwreck

Cirith Ungol – King of the Dead [1984]

[Cover artwork: Michael Whelan]

Opting for Michael Whelan artwork to adorn your album cover meant anyone who happened across King of the Dead in a record bin circa 1984 had no choice but to buy the record on the spot, and it mattered not if your idea of heavy metal started and ended with Lincoln Continentals. Once that record was home and the needle finally dropped? Well, the range of reactions must have been as long as King Kong’s thong. Personally, my young brain could barely process what the hell was happening. Was this some mutated form of hard rock? Was the bass player doing his thing under water? Did Jim Henson design and operate the vocalist? Everything just sounded so bizarre to me, but I couldn’t stop listening, thanks to the unbridled power behind wallopers such as “Black Machine,” “Master of the Pit” and the coiling “Finger of Scorn” all steadily casting their notably unique spell.

Primitive origins: Ventura, CA
Label: Enigma / Roadrunner Records
Sample: “Black Machine

Dark Age – Dark Age EP [1984]

[Cover artwork: Dana Malone]

Easily one of the more underrated entries on this list, Dark Age’s eponymous EP is one of those one-and-done gems that nearly leaves you fricken angry that nothing managed to happen beyond its release. Luckily, this a fairly lengthy EP (30 minutes with a bonus track, if you track down the No Remorse Records reissue, which I highly recommend you do), and both sides (Side Tiger and Side Dragon, as it happens) are comprised of all thriller and absolutely no filler. Vocalist Rob Stevens wails like a wraith on a roller coaster, and the lead guitar work front to back is frequent and noodly without being overblown. It’s grade-A EPIC US power metal, pure and simple, and it’s something that should definitely ping the radar of anyone who enjoys digging through the more obscure end of the USPM spectrum. (Side note: Speaking of obscurity, these guys might also be responsible for the namesake of one of epic metal’s most mysterious active entities: Tales of Medusa.)

Primitive origins: Los Angeles, CA
Label: Gnarly Records
Sample: Just listen to the whole damned thing

Griffin – Flight of the Griffin [1984]

[Cover artwork: Lionel Baker II]

If I’m honest, I’d say Flight of the Griffin seemed like a fairly strange fit for a shred-centric label like Shrapnel Records. It’s not that Griffin didn’t know how to tear off loads of lightning leads—the record is packed with them. But that doesn’t feel like Flight of the Griffin’s ultimate selling point, which is likely reserved for William McKay’s raw-as-dog-balls howl, or the way the record’s penchant for suddenly sprinting off at breakneck speeds. In truth, I think the record’s greatest advantage is actually the way it manages to balance so many different faces into something that feels…naturally uniform. The record is fast, moody, epic, doomy, sassy and raw, and all those shifts and mood swings are seamless, resulting in a journey that’s bold, twisting and extremely crankable, alone or amidst the rowdiest of friends.

Primitive origins: San Francisco, CA
Label: Shrapnel Records
Sample: “Heavy Metal Attack

Jag Panzer – Ample Destruction [1984]

[Cover artwork: Keith Austin]

A sizable number of folks would offer up Jag Panzer’s fiery debut full-length as Thee Definitive US Power Metal Release Of All Time, and one spin of Ample Destruction makes a swift and authoritative case for why: The record is bulging at the seams with volatile energy, be it from Harry “The Tyrant” Conklin’s potent voice, the incendiary leads firing around so many of its corners (Joey Tafolla is one of our undisputed kings), or the way the record’s riffs pack the sort of punch necessary to lay out challengers in a single blow. The record is clearly a heavyweight champ, indisputably so, and with songs as burly as “Generally Hostile” and “Reign of the Tyrants” leading the charge, it’s not difficult to understand why Ample Destruction continues to push around noble challengers, even 40 years later.

Primitive origins: Colorado Springs, CO
Label: Iron Works
Sample: “Harder than Steel

Manowar – Sign of the Hammer [1984]

[Cover artwork: Uncredited]

Wait, what? This was supposed to be Into Glory Ride, no? Yes, Glory is widely considered a textbook definition of USPM, and it also benefits from having precisely zero bass solos, but Sign of the Hammer is where Manowar truly hit the perfect sweet-spot between the kind of punchy, hard-rockin’ swagger of their earliest days (how many doors have been kicked in while “All Men Play On Ten” blasts?) and the more epic, adventuresome side of US power. Scott Columbus’ drumming absolutely thunders, there’s a glowing sense of positivity and VICTORY sewn into the fabric of every song, and it’s damn near impossible to walk away from the record without feeling well equipped to conquer any and all obstacles insane enough to stand in your way. “Tall as a mountain! I’m gonna tear through the sky!!”

Primitive origins: Auburn, NY
Label: Ten Records / Virgin Records
Sample: “Mountains

Metal Church – Metal Church [1984]

[Cover artwork: Uncredited]

As remarkable as it may seem, people of otherwise sound mind spend hours and hours squabbling over what actually qualifies as power metal. Seattle’s Metal Church, for example: What makes a band that produces a walloper as “traditional metal” sounding as this a USPM band? Again, time and placement, mostly, but the songs top to bottom on Metal Church punch with combustible power, pushing the preceding NWOBHM blueprint to the next level. Plus, there’s just enough of a fantastical element tied to the militaristic lyrics to make the overall mood feel rather otherworldly. Regardless of genre tags, however, what’s most remarkable about Metal Church and this album is that the band managed something this pants-shittingly good as their very first record.

Primitive origins: San Francisco, CA
Label: Ground Zero Records / Steamhammer / Elektra
Sample: “Battalions

Omen – Battle Cry [1984]

[Cover artwork: Vince Gutierrez]

Okay, now we’re talking unmistakable American power, with the Omen vigil sewn to the battle flag and subsequently jammed into the chest of the very first unfortunate soul to fall in this epic battle for dominion. Literally everything about Battle Cry screams USPM: the roughshod album cover depicting skeletal ghouls exploding through the front line with impossibly shiny weaponry; mythical themes that span dragons, executioners, gladiators, and… well, banging (you bring out the beast in me for at least three solid minutes); and of course the requisite double-kick POWER behind the battle-ready metal that’s reinforced even further by singer J.D. Kimball’s barrel-chested delivery. And hey! There’s even an epic tune afoot here that may or may not be partly to blame for the namesake of this here site. How curious!

Primitive origins: Los Angeles, CA
Label: Metal Blade Records / Roadrunner Records
Sample: “Death Rider

Agent Steel – Skeptics Apocalypse [1985]

[Cover artwork: Uncredited]

Witness the eternal struggle! Is it speed metal? Thrash metal? Power? Why, it’s all the above, Francis! And what’s even more remarkable is the fact that Skeptics Apocalypse is good enough to land on Best Ever Lists for all three of those branches, which is really pretty rare. In truth, the most difficult aspect regarding Agent Steel’s inclusion here relates mostly to figuring out which album is actually most deserving, Skeptics or 1987’s Unstoppable Force. Both are excellent examples of first-rate adrenaline rushes packed to the rafters with sharp riffing, glassy leads, and some of the most alien (quite possibly literally) vocals you’ll ever hear on a metal record. In the end, the victory goes to the debut, simply because it goes just a touch harder in the paint compared to the follow-up. FYI: The modern interpretation of the band is getting squirrellier than a diesel-powered nose hair trimmer.

Primitive origins: Los Angeles, CA
Label: Combat Records / Banzai Records
Sample: “Agents of Steel

Glacier – Glacier EP [1985]

[Cover artwork: Dave Delamare]

You know things are kicking off on shaky ground when your debut EP features three fricken vocalists across its 23 minutes. Surprisingly, all three vocalists sound remarkably similar, so the songs maintain a wonderful flow that’s vaulted to the heavens at the behest of some of the prettiest lead guitar work you’ll ever hear out of Rip City. Less surprising, Glacier didn’t really manage to do much beyond this wonderful jump into USPM, but the overall quality of these five songs is so high that their strength has not diminished in the least after existing for 38 long years. BACK to surprising, the band reunited and finally released a full-length in 2020 (the extraordinarily aptly titled The Passing of Time), and the quality of that release is easily as high as the Glacier EP. Time… How does it even work.

Primitive origins: Portland, OR
Label: Axe Killer Records
Sample: “Ready for Battle

Savage Grace – Master of Disguise [1985]

[Revised cover artwork: Wobbly]

Let’s go ahead and address the gorilla doing backflips in the room. The original cover art (clearly modified above) for Master of Disguise is pretty embarrassing. Sure, it was LA in the ‘80s, and ploys such as this were as common for album covers as they were for VHS tape sleeves, but it still manages to rank pretty high on the list of questionable decisions made by metal bands in an attempt to snare the attention of overly wanton dudes with money to burn. As Chuck Dickens once said, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” and Master of Disguise certainly had a way of toeing that particular line. If you can set aside the unfortunate artwork, the music behind that wall happens to deliver a 35-minute masterclass in high-octane US power that’s packed with breakneck leads, wonderfully energetic drumming, and one of the more underrated vocal performances to come out of the USPM scene.

Primitive origins: Los Angeles, CA
Label: Important Record Distributors / Black Dragon Records
Sample: “Into the Fire

Warrior – Fighting for the Earth [1985]

[Cover artwork: Clive Piercy]

The Warrior story is common enough amidst bands from the ‘80s (or most any decade, for that matter) to become a copy / paste template: Band forms, band moves to LA, band produces a single that catches radio attention, band signs with a major label, band dynamic crumbles, band gets dropped by label, band potential drifts off into obscurity. Luckily, those early efforts produced one hell of a cracking jump from the gate with Fighting for the Earth, a snappy, often sassy thumper that appealed to fans of hard rock as much as it did early USPM enthusiasts. The musicianship across the full 38 minutes is topnotch, particularly those splashy lead guitars, but vocalist Parramore “Perry” McCarty truly lead the way, belting out gravelly hook after gravelly hook, and sounding like an ideal collision between Jon Oliva (Savatage) and the notably underrated Vic Hix (Shok Paris).

Primitive origins: Los Angeles, CA
Label: Ten Records / MCA Records
Sample: “Fighting for the Earth” (OFFICIAL VIDEO)

Cerebus – Too Late to Pray [1986]

[Cover artwork: Patrick Pending for “art direction”]

Glassy (important “L” there, friends), speedy, cheeky and at times coming across like the power metal version of Mötley Crüe, Cerebus’ Too Late to Pray snuck its way into the collections of most anyone who understood the benefit of earmarking records that featured that familiar little New Renaissance castle in one corner. You can almost smell that magickal amalgamation of hairspray, stage fog and ditch weed the moment the record kicks off, and as good as the darker, more traditional pounders are (the title track is excellent), the album is truly made by the sassier strutters like “Taking Your Chances,” the moody “Distant Eyes,” and the snappy bonus track on the cassette version, “She Burns”.

Primitive origins: Greensboro, NC
Label: New Renaissance Records / U.S. Metal Records
Sample: “Distant Eyes

Chastain – Ruler of the Wasteland [1986]

[Cover artwork: Guy Aitchison]

It doesn’t take long to discover why a record like Ruler of the Wasteland might have inspired a sudden upshot in Kramer Baretta sales. Beyond David T. Chastain’s impact via a notably potent and raw form of shred, however, there’s really no suitable way to succinctly express the massive impact vocalist Leather Leone also had on the scene back in the mid-‘80s. She was (and continues to be) an absolute hurricane behind the mic—easily one of the most powerful voices to come out of the early USPM scene, and that’s really saying something. That ideal Chastain / Leone partnership has been long-lasting, too, and one could easily take their pick between Ruler of the Wasteland, The 7th of Never or The Voice of the Cult for the ultimate champion for a list such as this. Point being, you can’t talk about the best USPM records ever with out devoting a significant amount of time to this band’s impressive catalog.

Primitive origins: Cincinnati, OH
Label: Shrapnel Records / Banzai Records / Roadrunner Records
Sample: “Fighting to Stay Alive

Crimson Glory – Crimson Glory [1986]

[Cover artwork: Uncredited]

What’s standing in the way of the debut album from Sarasota, Florida’s Crimson Glory vaulting to the skies as the most significant release in US power metal history? The two EPs by Queensrÿche and Warlord? Manowar, Fates Warning or Manilla Road? Well, if you’re looking for a contender that represents the most ideal bridge between USPM and its Euro cousin, the answer simply must be Crimson Glory or the band’s 1988 follow-up Transcendence, which some would argue finds just one extra inch of height. Personally, I’ve always preferred the debut , thanks to a touch more grit, but both albums deliver crowning achievements in the realm of melodic, exhilarating power metal, and they also showcase one of the greatest vocalists heavy metal has ever had the pleasure of spotlighting: one John Patrick Jr. “Midnight” McDonald. As the great Fred G. Sanford once said, “It’s the big one, Elizabeth!”

Primitive origins: Sarasota, FL
Label: Par Records / Roadrunner Records
Sample: “Valhalla

Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian [1986]

[Cover artwork: Ioannis Vassilopoulos]

Few bands had a bigger emotional impact on thirsty metal fans in the mid-80s than Fates Warning. Sure, there was no shortage of otherworldly metal available for all interested parties, but this band and a record like Awaken the Guardian managed to reach even more distant worlds, thanks largely to that iconic artwork, the subject matter behind the lyrics, the band’s notably adventurous approach to the Iron Maiden blueprint, and of course John Arch’s singular and spectral voice. In short, very few peers had the vision necessary to create landscapes as alien as did Fates Warning, and this final trip before the more progressive face of the band all but took over typifies an extraordinarily unique pinnacle on the US power metal timeline.

Primitive origins: Hartford, CT
Label: Metal Blade Records / Enigma / Roadrunner Records
Sample: “Fata Morgana

Fifth Angel – Fifth Angel [1986]

[Cover artwork: Guy Aitchison]

If you’ve studied and enjoyed USPM for years, you’ve probably heard the story: Bellevue’s Fifth Angel was in line to become “the next Queensrÿche.” Hey, that’s great, but 1) they don’t really sound much like ‘Rÿche (coming closest to Rage for Order, I suppose), and 2) ye olde conventional lineup wobbliness at the least opportune time prevented the band from taking significant strides toward a Queensrÿche level of celebrity. As a result, Fifth Angel became yet another in a long list of talented bands that mostly gets lauded in more underground spheres, despite having the necessary chops for wide acclaim pretty much right from the gate. In terms of overall quality, the line separating Fifth Angel and its follow-up Time Will Tell is pretty razor-thin, but the debut holds a touch more power (“Only the Strong Survive!”) compared to the sophomore effort’s stronger underscoring of struttin’ hard rock. Some of the finest lead work you’ll hear in USPM!

Primitive origins: Bellevue, WA
Label: Shrapnel Records / Banzai Records / Roadrunner Records
Sample: “Fifth Angel

Flotsam and Jetsam – Doomsday for the Deceiver [1986]

[Cover artwork: Kevin Tyler]

Yeah, I see you over there, giving me that not-at-all sly and oh-so damning side-eye for accepting something so close to straight-up thrash for a list such as this. But Flotsam and Jetsam’s stunning debut still packs well enough US power to punch through the defenses. Molten rockers like “Fade to Black” and “She Took an Axe,” for example—absolute power punching perfection. Or the epic glory woven throughout the lengthy back-to-back wallop of the title track and “Metalshock”—bonafide blueprints for US power schemes that found that extra gear compared to the typical sword-swingers on the next block over. (Never mind the fact that vocalist Eric A.K.—one of the best in the business—used to literally swing a sword on stage during this era of the band. [Greasy grin].) “The scene is set! Prepare for SHOOOCCCCK!!”

Primitive origins: Phoenix, AZ
Label: Metal Blade Records / Banzai Records / Roadracer Records
Sample: “Iron Tears

Heir Apparent – Graceful Inheritance [1986]

[Cover artwork: Eric Larnoy]

Even back in ’86, Europe understood the value of majestic, forward-thinking power more than the US. How a band from Seattle with a debut as magnificent and unique and lifting as Graceful Inheritance could not manage to land a Stateside record deal is beyond me, but I reckon I should just shut my yapper and be thankful that France’s Black Dragon Records saw enough potential to make sure the record got out into the world. In many ways, Heir Apparent was the progressive metal band Fates Warning eventually became before Fates Warning managed to become it themselves. Does… Does that even make sense? Let’s just go with YES. Suffice to say, if you were lucky enough to stumble across a copy of Graceful Inheritance back in the mid-‘80s, you found yourself suddenly treated to one of the early levelers / key influencers for the spirited progressive power scene yet to come.

Primitive origins: Seattle, WA
Label: Black Dragon Records
Sample: “Hands of Destiny

Hexx – Under the Spell [1986]

 [Cover artwork: Guy Aitchison]

If you prefer a riffier, moderately more aggressive form of US power in a similar vein to fellow Bay Area heavy hitters Vicious Rumors, then Hexx and their wonderfully vigorous Under the Spell is just the thing you need to kick the morning / afternoon / evening square in the chiclets. This record throws down some of the more underrated US power riffs of the ‘80s, and vocalist Dan Bryant delivers a perfectly appropriate raw howl to help push all that raw scrappiness to the next level. And yeah, fret not, ye fancy shredders, despite its primary objective to race like a mad banshee, Under the Spell flexes just enough melodic fret sorcery to very much warrant that Shrapnel Records seal of approval.

Primitive origins: San Francisco, CA
Label: Roadrunner Records / Shrapnel Records
Sample: “Edge of Death

M.A.R.S. – Project: Driver [1986]

[Cover Artwork: Guy Aitchison]

Guitarist Tony MacAlpine had one hell of a year in 1986. He released his debut solo record (Edge of Insanity), he played keyboards on Vinnie Moore’s explosive Mind’s Eye, and he dropped this smoker alongside journeymen Tommy Aldridge (drums) and Rudy Sarzo (bass), plus new vocal powerhouse Rob Rock. Quite an entry into the game, for certain, but one that saw the end of M.A.R.S. just as quickly as it started. That doesn’t mitigate the impact of Project: Driver, though—a record whose intention seemed focused on delivering a US version of Malmsteen’s Rising Force, and one that found MacAlpine giving Yngwie a solid run for his money. Wikipedia, All Music and Martin Popoff want you to believe this record is lacking in… Well, most everything. Do yourself a favor and ignore all of them. Does the record sound dated? Of course it does. But we wouldn’t want it any other way when the results sound this fiery.

Primitive origins: Los Angeles, CA
Label: Shrapnel Records / Banzai Records
Sample: “Writing’s On the Wall

~ Part 2 next week! Enjoy a selection of part 1 as a playlist below ~

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; That was my skull!

  1. Be still my heart… what a magnificent feast. Kudos, Cap! A perfect Saturday morning feature to dig into down this end of the world. Looking forward to Part #2.


  2. Glacier recorded an amazing follow-up to this EP in 1988 with an evolved lineup featuring half of the guys on the EP and vocals borrowed from another Portland band, Gargoyle (how this missed your list is a mystery). Tim Lachman is the brother of Pat Lachman (Halford and Damage Plan); he was used after they failed to secure the services of the guy who eventually joined Heir Apparent. The more recent Glacier album was recorded by the current lineup that consists of Mike Podrybau (the singer who originally replaced me the year before the EP was recorded!) and four younger guys from Chicago. The rhythm section from the EP sat in on the four previously unrecorded songs from back in the EP era. Stay tuned for several other older songs being re-recorded for the next Glacier project…


  3. Thanks for writing this awesome article. I did not even know about many of these bands, for example Dark Age. A pity I missed out on that all these years. I can totally relate to some of your experiences, like listening to the “left end” of the radio dial (a clock radio–exactly!) late at night trying to catch cool new music–I did the same thing. But the college stations in my area played mostly punk not metal, so I missed many of these bands. I didnt miss Metal Church though and I am glad to see them in here. I played that first album endlessly back then, and still listen to it often. Talk about lightning in a bottle. One of the best metal albums of all time I’d say.


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