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If the beginning of the 70’s saw the birth of heavy metal with groups like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, the mid-70’s saw the musical genre continue to grow into a commercially viable and culturally significant musical movement.
Bands like Judas Priest, The Scorpions, Iron Maiden and KISS were some of the most successful acts of the era, helping to popularize metal for the masses. But there were many other bands that helped the scene grow and evolve. While they didn’t get their fair share of the spotlight, they’re nonetheless influential. Let’s look at some of the most notable examples.
Diamond Head were one of the earliest acts in the NWOBHM (acronym for New Wave of British Heavy Metal) scene in late 1970s England that fused blues boogie rock with punk rawness and speed.
Diamond Head specialized in relentless pounding rhythms and lighting fast licks that gained them a rabid loyal following thanks to their rollicking live shows.
But despite an early wave of hype, the group’s momentum was marred by meddling record execs and numerous personnel and managerial issues. Nevertheless they were extremely influential on the late 80s American thrash metal movement, championed by Metallica, who still cover ‘Am I Evil’ and ‘The Prince’ regularly in concert.
Essential Albums: ‘Lightning To The Nations’ (1980), ‘Borrowed Time’ (1982), ‘Canterbury’ (1983), ‘Death and Progress’ (1993)
Essential Tracks: ‘Am I Evil’ (1980), ‘The Prince’ (1980), ‘Helpless’ (1980), ‘Sucking My Love’ (1980), ‘It’s Electric’ (1980),
Another UK group associated with the NWOBHM, Saxon has cranked out trusty, ham-fisted riffs since 1977, buttressed by the sandblasted pipes of craggy singer Biff Byford. No frills and all hard edges, the group also have a way with a cover, turning Christopher Cross’s mellow track ‘Ride Like The Wind’ into a chest-thumping rocker.
While their unglamorous looks kept them off MTV, they’ve left several iconic tracks in their wake, most notably their call-to-arms heavy metal anthem ‘Denim and Leather’, which epitomized the ethos of British metal subculture during the late 70s and early 80s.
Fun fact: their po-faced demeanor proved an influence on the metal mockumentary comedy ‘This Is Spinal Tap.’
Essential Albums: ‘Saxon’ (1979), ‘Wheels of Steel’ (1980), ‘Denim and Leather’ (1981), ‘Power and The Glory’ (1983), ‘Crusader’ (1984)
Essential Tracks: ‘Denim and Leather’ (981), ‘Princess of the Night’ (1981),‘747 (Strangers in the Night’)’ (1980), ‘And The Band Played On’ (1981), ‘Motorcycle Man’ (1980), ‘Suzie Hold On’ (1980)
This Canada act, founded by guitarist/vocalist Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, have been bashing out the rock since the late 70’s. But despite the praise from groups like Guns N’ Roses and rave album reviews, Anvil never got their due, enduring numerous lineup changes and personal issues that halted their success.
Their run of bad luck was so pervasive, that filmmaker (and superfan) Sacha Gervasi made a critically acclaimed documentary about their trials and tribulations, which ironically helped jumpstart their career. One listen to assaultive tracks like ‘Metal on Metal’ and ‘March of the Crabs’ should be all the proof needed that Anvil are worthy of their far-too-belated accolades.
Essential Albums: ‘Hard’n’Heavy’ (1981), ‘Metal on Metal’ (1981), ‘Forged In Fire’ (1983), ‘This Is Thirteen’ (2007), ‘Hope In Hell’ (2013)
Essential Tracks: ‘Metal on Metal’ (1982), ‘March of the Crabs’ (1982), ‘666’ (1982), ‘Thumbhang’ (2007), ‘Jackhammer’ (1982), ‘Mothra’ (1982), ‘School Love’ (1981)
Arriving at the tail end of the NWOBHM, this British collective shamelessly fueled the fans of religious blasphemy to increase album sales, by capitalizing upon the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. They created an imposing sound and image that panicked parents and won over adolescent boys.
Fronted by the gravel-throated singer/bassist Cronos they forged ominous tunes like ‘Buried Alive’ and ‘Black Metal’. The latter track (which spawned an album of the same name), proved so influential it inspired an entire metal subgenre with its namesake.
Essential Albums: ‘Black Metal’ (1982), ‘Welcome to Hell’ (1981), ‘At War With Satan’ (1984), ‘Possessed’ (1985)
Essential Tracks: ‘Black Metal’ (1982), ‘Welcome to Hell’ (1981), ‘In League With Satan’ (1981), ‘Countess Bathory’ (1982), ‘Buried Alive’ (1982), ‘Bloodlust’ (1986), ‘Witching Hour’ (1981)
This Finnish act created a unique sound that was equal parts glam punk, glam-metal and hard rock, and would go on to influence the 80s American glam metal scene, even if they never received the success of their progeny.
Fronted by flamboyantly androgynous vocalist Michael Monroe, the group’s street attitude, fashion sense and huge guitar hooks inspired a host of disparate bands including Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses, Ratt, Foo Fighters and Alice In Chains.
Sadly the band are best known for a real life tragedy, and not their song of the same name: drummer Razzle was killed by Motley Crue vocalist Vince Neil in a 1984 drunk driving accident.
Essential Albums: ‘Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks’ (1981), ‘Back To Mystery City’ (1983), ‘Two Steps From The Move’ (1984), ‘Oriental Beat’ (1982)
Essential Tracks: ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ (1984), ‘A Day Late, A Dollar Short,’ (2002), ‘Tragedy’ (1981), ‘Malibu Beach Nightmare’ (1983),‘Up Around The Bend’ (1984), ‘Lost In The City’ (1981), ‘Oriental Beat’ (1982), ‘Motorvatin’’ (1982).
As the 70’s came to a close, heavy metal was just getting started. The 1980’s would prove the zenith of the genre’s popularity, off-shooting into a variety of sub-genres including glam metal, thrash, industrial metal, sludge, and more.
But it’s the bands of the 70’s that laid the foundation. Groups like Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, Slayer, Quiet Riot, etc. owe their career to their predecessors, which they will freely admit. They started a movement that became a lifestyle for many. Let’s raise devilhorns in their honor, shall we?
That concludes my list of good metal bands from 75-80. I’ve also included some honorable mentions below. What other formative metal acts from the era would you add to the list? Tell me in the comments!
And be sure to check out our itcher lists of Good Heavy Metal Music From 1970-1975, and Underrated U.S. Glam Metal Bands from 1985-1990 for even more hard rock recommendations.
Honorable Metal Mentions: Manowar, Judas Priest, Angel Witch, Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Overkill, Van Halen, Kix, Scorpions, Accept, Exodus, Dio.