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A History Of ... Speed Metal

Originally posted April 6/18

The 'A History Of ...' series will provide a written and musical journey through many of the sub-genres of heavy metal. The first to be tackled in the series is ... speed metal!

What is speed metal ?

Simply put, it is early heavy metal sped up.

Early in its history, metal was a lumbering beast, hellbent on stomping other musical forms into dust. Slowly. As the late 70's and early 80's arrived, some HM bands started experimenting with speed in individual tracks (refer next sub-topic). However, it wasn't until 1981 when the first true speed metal album was produced. In fact, many bands issued speed metal albums only to subsequently 'evolve' into other musical styles (mainly thrash and power metal), making the identification of speed metal bands difficult. Hence, for this discussion, I will focus on speed metal albums (rather than bands).

Note: Thrash metal is a direct descendant from speed metal, the former taking the amped-up speed of the latter and mixing it with punk and hardcore.

What are the songs that kick-started speed metal (ie. proto songs)?

1977: 'Call For The Priest' by JUDAS PRIEST - Sin After Sin

The song that started it all. (Note: Yes, there are other fast songs that predate this, but they are from hard rock bands ... not metal bands. Example, Deep Purple's 'Speed King' from 1970.)

1978: 'Exciter' by JUDAS PRIEST - Stained Class

Priest tightens the bolts further with what many consider the mother of all speed metal tracks.

1979: 'Overkill' by MOTORHEAD - Overkill

The song and album that is the squirming tadpole for all extreme forms of metal (including speed). And those sustained double bass drums ...we'll never be the same!

April, 1982: 'Heatsink' by ANVIL - Metal On Metal

Often forgotten in historical discussions, Anvil's sophomore release was an influence on many extreme metal outfits to come.

October, 1982: 'Fast As A Shark' by ACCEPT - Restless And Wild

Outrageous savagery that upped the ante on clinical intensity.

Speed metal album history:

Obviously not a complete list, rather this is a list of important/high quality releases from the early era.

January, 1981: RAVEN - Rock 'Til You Drop

The first speed metal album ever. Loose screwed, bolts flying everywhere, the UK speed demons introduced the world to a new sub-genre. And those banshee vocals - sheesh.

June, 1983: EXCITER - Heavy Metal Maniac

The influential debut that still stands as one of the all-time best releases of the genre. Hail!

December, 1983: SLAYER - Show No Mercy

Yeah, yeah - Slayer is unquestionably a thrash band. However, their debut album was a speed/thrash metal hybrid with enough of the speed element to warrant inclusion herein. (The Haunting The Chapel EP the following year saw the band jettison its speed metal elements for good.)

February, 1984: ANTHRAX - Fistful Of Metal

Before donning shorts and thrashin' out, Anthrax put out this decidedly speed metal debut.

February, 1984: EXCITER - Violence & Force

More of the same high-octane speed from the Ottawa-based threesome, but with an inferior production.

October, 1984: GRAVE DIGGER - Heavy Metal Breakdown

Staccato blasted HM with grave, guttural vocals from Herr Boltendahl.

December, 1984: RUNNING WILD - Gates To Purgatory

This debut from the German soon-to-be power metal pirates (heh, heh) was more speed than power. Hence, its inclusion.

June, 1985: AGENT STEEL - Skeptics Apocalypse

Intense debut with a Halford-ian screamer.

July, 1985: HALLOWS EVE - Tales Of Terror

Some would call this thrash, but I don't hear the punk influence. Just good 'ol metal with extra velocity.

October, 1985: HELLOWEEN - Walls Of Jericho

Before going all power metal, Helloween's debut full length was a tour-de-force of German precision and speed.

Below is a smattering of some of the better speed metal tracks after the golden era (1986 and onwards):

'Unstoppable Force' by AGENT STEEL - Unstoppable Force (1987)

'Feeding Fatal Fairies' by DEFLESHED - Fast Forward (1999)

'Faster Disaster' by TERROR 2000 - Slaughterhouse Supremacy (2000)

'Deathexplosion'' by THE CROWN - Deathrace King (2000)

'Night Marauders' by 3 INCHES OF BLOOD - Fire Up The Blades (2007)

'Smashing 'Em Down' by EXCITER - Kill After Kill (1992)

'Speed And Violence' by RANGER - Speed And Violence (2016)

'Motorider' by REVENGE - Harder Than Steel (2014)

'Slutanic Speedmetal' by INTOXICATED - Rock'N'Roll Hellpatrol (2013)

'Hell Will Follow' by ENFORCER - From Beyond (2015)

'You Can't Stop Steel' by MIDNIGHT - Satanic Royalty (2011)

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