Braindance, Redemption (2001)
Spearheaded by vocalist/lyricist Sebastian Elliott and guitar wizard Vora Vor, this New York group aptly call themselves "progressive darkwave." His deep, goth-inflected vocals and her shredding guitar work drive a collage of diverse musical influences, movie soundbites and atmospheric keyboards, and their second album Redemption takes you on a wild ride from brooding ballads to hyperkinetic rockers. "Relentless" is one of the most turbo-charged metal anthems of the 21st century, propelled by Vor's compelling six-string fingerwork. Also ready for their streaming debut are their other superlative releases Shadows (1994), Fear Itself (1995) and Master Of Disguise (2014) which also deserve to be heard by a much wider audience. Comic book fans will notice Marc Silvestri's within Fear Itself and Joe Simko's adorning their last two releases.
Celtic Frost, Cold Lake (1988)
This Swiss group were experimental pioneers of the '80s metal underground, infusing dark orchestrations and avant-garde quirkiness into their grinding, doomy, and sometimes thrashy sound. Their early music certainly captured the thrash zeitgeist, and they challenged perceptions of genre limitations on their first three releases. They even quoted Charles Baudelaire and Emily Brontë in their lyrics. And then came... Cold Lake. It was an attempt to glam up the band visually – bassist Curt Victor Bryant's trousers are unzipped on the back cover – while musically simplifying the tunes, and it incited scorn from many fans and critics. (Goodbye, "Procreation of the Wicked." Hello, "Dance Sleazy.") In retrospect, while still their weakest album, it has its moments. Hardcore fans of any band tend to like the warts and all aspect of a full catalog, but Celtic Frost mastermind/founder Thomas Gabriel Fischer (understandably) loathes this release, so it has been out-of-print for many, many years.
Dark Angel, We Have Arrived (1985)
While they never rose to the top tiers of thrash, Southern California's Dark Angel were among the first wave of American thrash bands to stir the metal masses. They had a primal, visceral sound early on that was infectious, and while not as complex as some of their peers, their debut album still holds up because of the sheer energy roaring from the speakers. Interestingly enough, We Have Arrived surfaced the same month as Slayer's second album Hell Awaits, and the title tracks of both sound and feel similar. Great minds think alike. Their next album, Darkness Descends, which featured a higher velocity re-recording of their instant classic "Merciless Death," introduced the world to drumming legend Gene Hoglan. Respect!
Die Krupps, III - Odyssey Of The Mind (1995)
When this long-running German industrial outfit transitioned from their '80s synth-driven paradigm into their '90s guitar-driven phase, they drew greater American attention. And the hard-hitting Odyssey of the Mind pummeled listeners with metallic riffs and throbbing EBM beats. Raspy vocalist/mastermind Jürgen Engler sounds like a man engaged in self-therapy while bellowing out intense sentiments like "isolation is liberation when desolation is what you feel." The ominous shadows of German life before the Iron Curtain fell permeate tracks like "The Last Flood" and "The Final Option." This album bleeds raw, genuine emotion, making Odyssey one of the best and most underrated metal releases of the 1990s.
Doro, True At Heart (1991)
Doro's headbanging solo debut, Force Majeure, reigns supreme and is one of the '80s best metal albums, and this release came out at a time when grunge and alternative were on the cusp of turning the rock world on its head. Mining parallel territory to that of Canadian rock goddess Lee Aaron (another voice more people should hear) and following Doro's Gene Simmons-produced sophomore album, True At Heart leans heavier on ballads and veers into bluesy hard rock territory. But that's what makes it so special -- we get to hear more of the soulfulness in her voice. Doro tried different things in the '90s, like the sexy, industrial-tinged Machine II Machine, before getting heavier again. But True At Heart offers a more intimate take on this German icon.
Judas Priest, Jugulator (1997)
The Ripper Owens years of Judas Priest have been quietly interred by both the band and many fans, even though Jugulator effectively combines the down-tuned aggro of '90s metal with the British band's larger than life sound. They even experiment with unusual time signatures to freshen things up. While many replacement singers in iconic groups are brought in to replicate their predecessors, that was not the case here. Owens may have been a Rob Halford scream-alike (frankly, a necessity), but he was not a sing-alike -- he brought in his own vocal character. Even better, he could flawlessly perform both new and classic Priest cuts. Despite some dicey lyrics, Jugulator produced four standouts: "Blood Stained," "Burn In Hell," the apocalyptic epic "Cathedral Spires" and the Grammy-nominated "Bullet Train," with Owens screaming like a man possessed and Scott Travis' double bass assaults bludgeoning you into submission.
Manowar, Hail To England (1984)
One of two albums that these metal barbarians released in the same year, Hail to England offers everything you expect from a great Manowar album: Ross The Boss' fierce axework, the late Scott Columbus' pounding percussion, and Joey DeMaio's rambunctious bass lines. Powerhouse vocalist Eric Adams sings as if every breath were his last, even while delivering macho, alpha male sentiments that will make your inner 15-year-old cringe. The band would perfect their medieval-minded melange with Sign Of The Hammer (1984) and Kings Of Metal (1988), but this is still a kick. How many other metal bands can blend in Spanish guitar, choral singing and ludicrous Satanic rites and make it all feel like a night at the opera?
Pantera, Every album before Cowboys From Hell (1983-1988)
It's no secret that before they epitomized the brutality of '90s groove metal, Texas rockers Pantera, with singer Terry Glaze/Terrence Lee at the helm, were a glam band. There were synth toms aplenty on their snarling third album I Am The Night, and Lee got to screech out cheeseball lyrics like "Take a look at my ice cream cone baby/Go ahead take a lick/I can't wait to take you home/Beat you with my stick." Yeah, it was very much of its time. Yet musically, it was better than much of its ilk, and Dimebag Darrell (then known as Diamond Darrell) already displayed scorching chops as a teenager. Lee sang on Metal Magic, Projects In The Jungle and I Am The Night, and Phil Anselmo joined for Power Metal, with each release gradually growing heavier. As much as the band has jettisoned these early releases from their catalog (they have never come back in print), fan reaction on YouTube has actually been rather positive.
TNT, Transistor (1999)
This Norwegian quartet rose to international prominence in the '80s with the one-two punch of Ronni Le Tekrø's sizzling six-string work and Tony Harnell's soaring, soulful voice. Like many rockers from that era, TNT had to adapt to changing times in the post-grunge era, which was not a comfortable adjustment for a majority of their peers. With Transistor, they continued the shift toward alternative sounds that began on 1997's Firefly. The difference with what TNT did is they fused the sounds of both decades into a seamless blend. It paid off with the lead single "Just Like God," with its drum 'n' bass undercurrents getting some U.S. airplay. This is one of five TNT albums not available to stream – the others being My Religion, All The Way To The Sun, Firefly and Realized Fantasies – along with some Westworld releases featuring Harnell. His fans have some petitioning to do.
Tsunami, Tsunami (1983)
This is one of those hard-rocking American bands that should have gotten way more acclaim and attention than they ever did. The San Jose, California quintet combined raunchy hedonism, vengeful anthems, and existential ballads into a potent sonic punch. Seriously, it could have made a great soundtrack to a crazy '80s action movie. One song, "The Runaround," even hit No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100. This five-piece roster is a strong unit – Doug Denton's gritty vocals and the raucous axework of Tatsuya Miyazaki and Tomotaka Yamamoto leading the way – and their passionate performances never wane during all 39 minutes. They later did two more albums with a different lineup, and Denton and other original members reunited for a show in their hometown in 2015. This album needs to be reissued stat.
Virgin Steele, Noble Savage (1985)
The first four albums from Long Island power metal pioneers Virgin Steele are suspiciously absent from Spotify, and the best of the bunch, Noble Savage, is like heavy metal meets the Age of Romanticism, with Edward Pursino's primal yet virtuosic guitar attack laced with David DeFeis' elegant keyboard playing. DeFeis is also a diverse frontman, capable of roaring his way through "Fight Tooth and Nail" and soaring through the high notes of the title track's majestic coda. The album's highlight is the seven-minute "Angel Of Light," an orchestral epic complete with a quasi-jazzy break. Even as Helloween were beginning to draw attention for their upbeat power metal anthems, Virgin Steele were setting the bar high for that genre which would explode in the mid to late 1990s. They made further waves with popular European releases and have kept soldiering on with new music reportedly in the works.
Warrior, Fighting For The Earth (1985)
When this sci-fi inspired L.A. group emerged with Fighting For The Earth, they were competing with the dual ascension of glam and thrash, leaving traditional heavy metal caught in the crossfire. Even if you find some of the lyrical inspiration a bit hokey, guitarists Joe Floyd and Tommy Asakawa blast out catchy, killer riffs and solos to match Parramore "Perry" McCarty's impassioned vocal delivery. The band also mastered the art of dynamics and guitar tones, making this a sonically diverse platter as highlighted by the ominous "Defenders Of Creation," optimistic "Welcome Aboard" and the existential ballad "Cold Fire." No weepy love songs here. Fighting For The Earth is one of the greatest metal albums you've never heard. McCarty later fronted guitarist Steve Stevens' post-Billy Idol band Atomic Playboys. His most recent group is Radiation Romeos. (Can you guess the band name inspiration?)