New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal – 20 Essential Albums
November 8, 2023, a month ago
If you’ve been living under a rock or are too busy clinging to your Powerslave record; there is a new generation of forces carrying the flag of traditional heavy metal. Whether we like it or not, the greats of our day like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Saxon will be coming to a close sooner rather than later, so instead of latching on to the past, it’s time to support the new generation – the New Wave Of Traditional Metal. Acts have been sprouting all over the globe – from Sweden to Greece to Spain to Canada to the U.S. – an entrancing heavy metal riff is killer no matter the language.
The vast majority of the bands presented operate on small labels or independently and most of the overseas bands have yet to reach North American shores. Some of them have been at the game for 10-15 years, accumulating quality releases with little to no fanfare and not able to escape the bubble and reach mainstream status, at least in the metal world. While this is only scratching the surface, here are 20 essential records from these metal-spiked, leather-clad warriors!
AMBUSH – Desecrator (High Roller, 2015)
This is the catchiest band on this list. With typical metal topics of violence and war, these Swedes sure do know how to put together earworms with catchy solos, choruses, and tunes made for the live arena. Their second record keeps it straight to the point with many tracks hovering around the 3-and-a-half minute mark. If you love Accept, ‘80s Scorpions, and Fire Down Under-era Riot, this is the album for you! And yes, this vocalist will remind you of prime Rob Halford.
BLAZING RUST - Armed To Exist (Pure Steel, 2017)
From Russia, with love! Like a shot out of nowhere, Soviet metal contributions have been few and far between (even less viable, when stacked against global competitors). Adopting an old-school blueprint, punctuated by the occasional, high-pitched English lyrics (devoid of "foreign" accent), the Rusties (Ruskies?) truly stand on their musical merits, not as a nationality anomaly. From the Diamond Head meets early Def Leppard style of "Dying World' to the piercing, John Gallagher (Raven) inflections on "Hellbringer" opener, good stuff all. Long overdue for a follow-up to this debut, #2 will reportedly be out soon.
BULLET - Dust To Gold (Steamhammer, 2018)
One of the earliest "retro” adopters, these Swedes marry big, catchy AC/DC stadium sing-along simplicity to an Accept metal cred. After a jubilant start, mid-era material was a bit wonky, but have righted the ship, over the course of the last two albums, the latest being the best thus far. Gritty vocalist Hell Hofer is from the Udo Dirkschneider school. One of the few inclusions here to have issued an official live release, also worth investigating.
CAULDRON – In Ruin (The End, 2016)
In the game since their ’09 debut Chained To The Nite, these Canadians didn’t really hit their stride until third opus Tomorrow’s Lost. Their introspective, murky approach hit its stride with In Ruin, capitalizing on their best rhythms and riffs with the desperate, melancholic vocals of Jason Decay. Up-tempo hymns combined with thrashing textures make this a standout record. Instrumental “Delusive Serenade” shows a lot of musical depth, check ‘em out!
DEAD LORD - Heads Held High (Century Media, 2015)
Updating the highlights of the Thin Lizzy canon, these Swedes create simple structures that showcase guitars and faux Paul Stanley vocals. No easy feat. Can hear the twin leads/harmonies, without a wall of noise. Easy to envision acoustic versions of these tunes, which, at times, border on ‘70s hard rock, rather than "metal", but then so did some of the biggest names of the vaunted, original NWOBHM. Sample the upbeat video for "Don't Give A Damn" or even better, the full Rockpalalst show, from Germany, in '14.
ENFORCER – From Beyond (Nuclear Blast, 2015)
The fourth album from the Swedish screamers is loaded with dynamic riffing, tight production, and captivating solos backed by the Blonde Banshee himself, Olof Wikstrand. These ferocious speedsters continue to amaze with their barrel of razor-sharp riffs they repeatedly pump out. Their whole discography is worth a look, but From Beyond makes for a great starting point. While 2019’s Zenith remains polarizing, this squad continues to be of the frontrunners of the movement.
FLIGHT - Flight (Bad Omen, 2015)
Simple, in construction. Not a lot of noise. Can hear each instrument distinctly, but there's an undercurrent of driving guitar on all numbers off the Norwegians' debut. Try the "Nightrider" instrumental on, for size. There's even an acoustic, to introduce "Lion's Den", surely the standout gem. Hard to find an album where the snare and ride cymbal are so "up front" in the mix, as for each of the eight sped up shuffles herein.
HAUNT – If Icarus Could Fly (Shadow Kingdom, 2019)
The band that never stops working, California’s Haunt, led by Trevor Church, is by no means a newbie though; fronting the doom act Beastmaker, but his dive into the trad metal landscape has turned many heads, starting with 2018’s full-length debut, Burst Into Flame. With desperate, emotive vocals similar to Cauldron and with sounds akin to Thin Lizzy, Dianno-era Iron Maiden, and Angel Witch, second album If Icarus Could Fly is about as perfect as a heavy metal album can get.
HELLFIRE - Mania (Riding Easy, 2019)
Tough to choose between this and their Kill 'Em All inspired debut, but on album #3, the San Fran foursome established themselves (confirmed by earning the opening slot, on U.S. tour, with hometown buds Death Angel). Ripping "Knights Of The Holy" contains Iron Maiden homage. "Lashing Out" is pure speed, start-to-finish. Recent, "Conquerors" post-release single sees the band progressing into less thrashy direction. Perhaps a byproduct of Jake Nunn's collaboration (Hysteria, which has nothing to do with Def Leppard), alongside Haunt mainman Trevor Church.
HOLY GRAIL - Times Of Pride And Peril (Prosthetic, 2016)
If Dio was the vocalist for a screaming guitar army (with the occasional neoclassical flourish)...wait a sec? Might sound like this So Cal outfit. Have been a little more selective (of late), after being perpetual road dogs during the early part of the decade, where they were on separate tours with Blind Guardian, Anthrax and Dragonforce, as well as club stints alongside others in this list, namely Striker and Cauldron. Blazing licks and strong, soaring vocals, what else do you need?
IN SOLITUDE – Sister (Metal Blade, 2013)
The unfortunate swansong from one the more promising acts, the Swedes were building to a more Gothic, depressive sound that Tribulation successfully utilized on 2015’s Children Of The Night. Sister is filled with hypnotizing opuses dedicated to occultism with mesmerizing rhythms and articulate passages about the dark side of life. Such a shame they pulled the plug. If it’s not a classic already, it will be.
LANCER - Lancer (Doolittle, 2013)
Intriguing combination of the galloping, chunky bass strings Iron Maiden (especially "Purple Sky" kick-off), speedy, Keeper-era Helloween ("Don't Go Changing" and "Dreamchasers"), wrapped in the spirit of traditional revivalist countrymen Hammerfall. The high energy "Young And Alive" or "Mr. Starlight" nearly matches the register in which they're sung. Not a ballad in the bunch, although the initial half of the "Between The Devil And The Deep" finale threatens to manifest as one, before adopting an epic Maiden-ish tilt for the remainder. One proudly wearing its influences on the sleeves.
NIGHT – Raft Of The World (The Sign, 2017)
Wow. What an album we have here. While their first two records closely resembled traditional metal, nowadays these Swedes have more in common with ‘70s rock like Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, and early Riot. It’s incredible how catchy this album is and will make the old-heads smile. “Winds” will stick in your head for days and is a masterclass in songwriting. The production effort is top notch and man, there are times you’ll be reminded of Fleetwood Mac, Cheap Trick, and Rainbow. These guys have thrown it into a blender and brought out magical music steeped in retro vibes, but perfectly suited for the modern age.
NIGHT DEMON - Curse Of The Damned (SPV, 2015)
Probably THE most successful of the newcomers. Via hard work and relentless touring, already garnered mid-level status on the restrictive European summer festival circuit...and by an American band! An update of the classic Brit sound, mixing speed, naive enthusiasm and sing-along lyrics into short/peppy metal anthems. An appreciation for those that have gone before (and the odd cover, of same) has helped legitimize their reign. Damn, get cursed!
PORTRAIT – Burn The World (Metal Blade, 2017)
Another outstanding product from Sweden (seriously the amount of talent that comes from this country is ridiculous). Portrait is for the ones that love Mercyful Fate/King Diamond. With a high-pitched singer in Per Lengstedt, incredible, dynamic riffs accompany the intense transitions. It’s pummeling and resides in the mystic darkness.
RAM – Lightbringer (AFM, 2009)
Yep…more Swedish mayhem. RAM is like the heavier brother of Judas Priest with a charismatic singer (Oscar Carlquist), speeding tempos, but can also display a rockier side with fist-pumping headbangers. Their second album, Lightbringer, cobbles it all together with nasty guitar tones, epic voyages, and bursts of thrashing rhythms.
RIOT CITY - Burn The Night (No Remorse, 2019)
Funny how many Canuck bands made our list, eh? Debut from Calgary based shriekers, who already have a (Covid 19 abbreviated) European jaunt under their collective bullet belts. The chaotic, hour-long Hamburg gig, posted online, proves Riot City can pull this frenzied aggression off live. The vocals accents hit 10, on the stratospheric scale, throughout. When Helloween first appeared, they were labeled "Iron Maiden on speed." This kicks it up another notch, entirely!
SPEEDTRAP - Straight Shooter (Svart, 2015)
Raw, chainsaw guitars and speed to match, these now sadly defunct Finns are akin to the Exciter debut. Eight tracks in under 34 minutes, with more than a third of that tied up in "Eyes For Conquest' and "Heavy Armor". Could be the soundtrack for the newly launch SpaceX rocket: strap in, press play and hold-on, as the boosters blast at unEarthly velocity. Little variance in pace, as Mission Control would only have it, although more than a hint of infectious melodies survive the journey through surely shredded speakers!
STRIKER – Stand In The Fire (Record Breaking, 2016)
Undoubtedly one of the “bigger” names in this grouping, Edmonton’s Striker blend guitar theatrics with energetic rhythms that sometimes closely align with Dokken and Whitesnake. Vocalist Dan Cleary is one of the best singers out there – he’s unique, pleasant, can belt out a scream and should be receiving praise and accolades for his ability. This fourth album blazes away with loud guitars, meaty riffs, and a clear production that blossoms sing along moments and plenty of headbangable moments. They’ve always had a little glam in them which is evident in “Too Late”. These guys are the epitome of going for it all and should continue to grow in popularity.
TRAVELER – Termination Shock (Gates Of Hell, 2020)
Another Canadian band making waves, Traveler blazes away with a sci-fi edge. The riffing, drumming, and soloing is all there and heck, there is even a hint of sleaze metal in “STK”! They pull no punches like their fellow countrymen Riot City. Singer Jean-Pierre Abboud is like a hopped up version of John Oliva as the sky is the limit for these savage speed metallers!
(Pictured above: Dead Lord)