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Speed metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal music originating in the early 1980s that was the direct musical progenitor of thrash metal[1]. When speed metal first emerged as a genre, it increased the tempos that had been used by early heavy metal bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, while retaining their melodic approaches. Many elements of speed metal are rooted in New Wave of British Heavy Metal that while fusing their stylistic approach with hardcore punk

The term speed metal has been broken down and specified with other terms under heavy metal (typically thrash metal, power metal, and to a lesser extent, black metal) and is often succeeded by such terms when an artist's sound or style is specifically defined [2]. The term 'speed metal' was also used in a very broad sense by some glam metal and NWOBHM groups during the 1980s. Many Japanese bands from the 1980s to the present can also be described as speed metal, largely due to the success of X Japan.



The exact origin of speed metal is difficult to pinpoint. However, many consider the earliest speed metal song to be Deep Purple's "Highway Star" from their 1972 album Machine Head.[3] "Highway Star" introduced the single-note riffing at fast tempos and the complex guitar and keyboard solos (performed by Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord respectively) borrowed from progressive rock of the 1970s, but heavily influenced by classical music. These features commonly went on to be associated with more modern metal genres, but at the time, were typical of speed metal. Another early example of speed metal is Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy" from their 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack.Template:Says who The song was extremely quick-paced for the rock & roll genre and among the fastest Queen ever played and one of the heaviest recorded songs at that time.[citation needed] Other than the fast tempo of the song, Brian May's staccato riffs and Roger Taylor's jackhammer drums are similar to later metal styles. It would later be covered by Metallica.

There were earlier efforts with a similar style including Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" from their 1970 album Paranoid, Led Zeppelin's Communication Breakdown, and also Deep Purple's "Speed King" and (especially) "Hard Lovin' Man" from their 1970 album In Rock and "Fireball" from their 1971 album Fireball.[citation needed].

The first major use of the term speed metal, however, dates to the late 1970s radio show on K.R.O.Q. in Los Angeles. The show was hosted by former-Runaways member Ann Boleyn, and featured the fast-paced sounds of Judas Priest, Deep Purple, and Rush. The show was known as Speed Metal at Midnight.

Evolution of the genre[]

Although Judas Priest never released a full speed metal album in their career many of their early albums contained speed metal songs.[citation needed] One example is the song "Exciter" from their 1978 album Stained Class. These songs had tremendous impact on the speed metal explosion in the 1980s.[citation needed]

Motörhead added primitive speed metal elements to their brand of heavy metal since their inception in mid-1970s, later quickly evolving and developing their characteristic speed metal style with classic releases such as 1979 album Overkill and yet another one, Ace of Spades, released the following year. Eponymous song "Overkill" from the former is among the first examples of steady and fast double bass drum tracks used in a metal song, with technique soon becoming common for diverse metal genres.[citation needed]

Newer bands also began to emerge on the scene. The NWOBHM movement had reached its zenith at this stage and many bands embraced speed metal, notably Venom, who combined Motörhead's style with a raw, harsh atmosphere. NWOBHM bands such as Iron Maiden and Raven produced a number of speed metal songs as well, such as "Aces High" and "Invaders" by the former.[citation needed]

The German heavy metal band Accept also introduced speed metal elements into their sound at the start of the decade. The song "Fast as a Shark" on their 1982 album Restless and Wild is an example of Accept's speed metal ideas, and is also notable for fast double bass drumming. Accept's influence on the German heavy metal scene was unquestionably huge.[citation needed] Bands such as Running Wild, Grave Digger, Helloween, Rage and Paradox built upon the fast tempos of Accept to form the foundations of German speed metal.

Bands who would later develop into thrash originally had their music deeply rooted in speed metal. Slayer’s debut album Show No Mercy, Metallica's debut album Kill 'Em All, Anthrax’s debut album Fistful of Metal, Megadeth's debut album Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good! and Overkill’s debut album Feel the Fire, as well as many other early albums by thrash metal bands, contained speed metal elements (inspired by the NWOBHM) that were combined with archetypical thrash metal riffs. These bands would eventually allow thrash motifs to dominate their music resulting in the thrash metal explosion of the mid 80s.

However, several bands concentrated on refining their speed metal sound instead of veering in this new musical direction. Notable examples include Agent Steel and Exciter, two bands who, at the time, chose to remain speed metal.


In the 2000s, speed metal is much less popular than in the 1980s. The most notable speed metal bands are those who have continued to produce speed metal to this day, and more modern bands who draw most of their influence from Judas Priest’s Painkiller album. Notable modern bands that play speed metal are Gamma Ray, releasing the album Power Plant in 1999, Stormwarrior, Iron Savior, Rage, Agent Steel, Cage, Temple of Blood, and Primal Fear.As speed metal was the vanguard for what would eventually become power metal and thrash metal, significant overlap between genres is often encountered in bands that are said to be rooted predominantly in speed metal. This sometimes leads to confounding views with respect to the genre. The most common mistake is using the terms speed metal and thrash metal interchangeably.


  1. Speed metal rock history. Retrieved on December 14, 2006. .
  2. History of Power Metal. Archived from the original on 2001-08-04. Retrieved on December 14, 2006. .
  3. GuitarRX Highway Star and Speed Metal Accessed December 12, 2007

See also[]

External links[]

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