Not long ago, we published a celebration of The 10 Most Criminally Overlooked Albums in Hard Rock + Heavy Metal that featured Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and other lords of loudness.
Keeping that roster to a mere ten, of course, proved no small task. A follow-up feature, then, not only seemed logical but, as comments from our kickass readers made clear, it became necessary.
So join us now in honoring yet another collection of extreme rock masterworks that, for whatever reason, either never received the adulation they so richly warrant or have unjustly faded in the wake of history’s fickle dictates.
As with the original article, we eagerly welcome and enthusiastically encourage you out there to provide other suggestions for hard-and-heavy buried treasures in the comments section.
Here now are ten more criminally overlooked hard rock and heavy metal albums.
Muscle of Love – Alice Cooper (1973)
“Teenage Lament ’74”
The only real weakness associated with Muscle of Love is that it followed the group’s four masterworks: Love It to Death, Killer, School’s Out, and Billion Dollar Babies.
Beyond that sheer volume of concentrated rock genius, consider that those records all came out in the span of just two years! Muscle of Love, in fact, hit stores in November ‘73; a scant nine months after Billion Dollar Babies debuted and was still flying off shelves as Alice’s hugest smash to date.
A bit of burnout proved inevitable, not just on the part of the Alice Cooper group, but from their fans as well. Muscle of Love represented a split from super-producer Bob Ezrin, who had piloted Alice through that previous deluge of triumphs. The innovative packaging, which simulated the album coming in the sort of “plain brown wrapper” reserved at the time only for questionable materials, also proved a mite ahead of its time.
All this resulted in Muscle “only” going gold on the heels of its four platinum predecessors. It also tore Alice Cooper, the band, asunder and set up Alice Cooper, the solo artist, to debut just five months later with Welcome to My Nightmare.
The shame is that Muscle of Love is a polymorphously perverse whirlwind of crotch-kicks and gut-punches. Highlights include the title track’s account of an adolescent’s single-handed awakening upon coming across his old man’s porn stash; the sex-bot ode “Woman Machine,” a New York gutter-gasm spelunk titled “Big Apple Dreamin’ (Hippo),” and the should-have-been James Bond theme, “The Man With the Golden Gun.”
Also, the cover contains premade stains and, inside, shows the band dressed as sailors entering and having been forcibly exited from an Institute of Nude Wrestling called “Muscle of Love.” How is this still not ruling the entire universe?
Zebra – Zebra (1983)
“Tell Me What You Want”
Although formed in New Orleans, Zebra didn’t hit full stride until relocating to Long Island around the dawn of the ’80s.
Once astride the same metal-spawning shores that also begat Twisted Sister, Blue Öyster Cult, Dream Theater, Leslie West, Vanilla Fudge, Cactus and Suffocation, Zebra rapidly became New York area favorites. The power trio fronted by headlined legendary clubs such as L’Amour and My Father’s Place, and got songs in rotation on local FM outlet WBAB.
All this Zebra momentum rolled into their self-titled Atlantic Records debut, which, in turn, produced two radio and MTV hits, “Tell Me What You Want” and “Who’s Behind the Door?” They’re both top-notch commercial hard rock singles—still.
The entirety of Zebra by Zebra is, in fact, a bold, invigorating blast of ’80s pop-metal on the cusp of its cultural conquest, powered by the swooping, near-falsetto wail of frontman Randy Jackson (no relation to Michael’s brother or American Idol’s dawg), the booming bass and keyboards of Felix Hanneman (no relation to Slayer’s Jeff), and fleet-sticked drumming by Guy Gelso (no relation, period).
Zebra peaked at #29 and stood as one of Atlantic’s fastest-selling premiere discs. And then… nothing. At least not in terms of moving units. The band’s 1984 follow-up, No Tellin’ Lies, flopped, and the public clearly seemed to have moved on.
Stunningly, Zebra’s 1986 last gasp, 3.V (pronounced “three-point-five”), is a cult classic, the adherents of which not only maintain is better than the first album, but that it’s one of rock’s great lost masterworks. Check out the tracks, “He’s Making You the Fool” and “Your Mind’s Open.” Clearly, this group deserved the stardom to which they momentarily came so close.
Psalm 9 (1984)/ The Skull (1985) – Trouble
“Psalm 9/Trouble/Victim of the Assassin”
Today’s doom and stoner rock comprise a sound and a scene that some fans argue is the coolest and most vital heavy metal subgenre of our present decade. Sludgy, fuzzed-out, psychedelic-tinged contemporary bands such as Mastodon, Torche, Weedeater, Kylesa, Ghost BC, Royal Thunder, and Purson are slaying all comers as they presently carry the gauntlet originally laid down by the likes of Cream, Blue Cheer, and Jimi Hendrix in the late 1960s, and then Black Sabbath, Bang, Sir Lord Baltimore, Dust, and Leaf Hound in the 1970s. The sound, feel, and heavier-than-heavy mindset was then reinvented in the ’90s by (among others) Kyuss, the Melvins, Crowbar, and Down.
But what about the ’80s? The decade’s heavy metal history is understandably dominated by thrash, hardcore, power metal, speed metal, black metal, death metal, and other forms of extreme rock that produced household names and still evolving offshoots. Doom grew back then, too. Alas, it largely fell under the radar perhaps because, well, it’s not culturally synonymous with five-pointed green leaves and fuming skull bongs for nothing.
The New Wave of British Heavy Metal begat two early-’80s doom giants: Witchfinder General and Pagan Altar. Between 1984 and ’85, an unholy doom trinity arose stateside: Pentagram from Virginia, who had bounced around for years before properly unveiling their knockout debut, Relentless; Saint Vitus from Washington, D.C., who were championed by local hardcore punks and signed with Black Flag’s SST label; and Chicago’s own smoldering doom-ferno, Trouble.
Trouble issued Psalm 9 and The Skull, its one-two haymaker of tripped-out gloom, in 1984 and ’85 respectively, via Metal Blade records. Each is a fat, deep, rich slab of consciousness-overwhelming filth and beauty, distinguished by the band’s boundless imagination and the commanding vocals of mastermind Eric Wagner.
Further separating Trouble’s perfect pair were Wagner’s pro-God lyrics in a genre and time dominated by spirituality pointed in another direction—i.e., downward. Make no mistake, though, every note and every groove on both Psalm 9 and The Skull burns hotter, harder, and heavier than all of Hades.
Down to Earth – Rainbow (1979)
“Since You Been Gone”
Much respect is paid, properly and perhaps even insufficiently, to the first three albums by Rainbow, the group founded by Deep Purple guitarist and all around heavy metal grand magus Ritchie Blackmore. Less adulation gets paid to Rainbow’s commercial phase that, while decidedly different, is every bit as successful an endeavor. It all begins with 1979’s Down to Earth.
After Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll in 1978, original Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio departed, reportedly due to Blackmore wanted to lead the cosmic metal band in a more arena-rock direction.
The era after all, had become dominated by Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Ted Nugent, and even Blue Öyster Cult and Cheap Trick reaching millions upon millions of listeners and packing sports stadiums with crowds reaching six digit figures. Ritchie dreamt of creatively painting on a canvas of that unprecedented scope, and reconfigured Rainbow into a Mach II that commenced with Down to Earth.
Rainbow’s new rhythm succession consisted of Blackmore’s Deep Purple mate Roger Glover on bass and Jeff Beck Group veteran Cozy Powell on drums. Not even attempting to fill the incomparable Dio’s curly-toed elf boots, blues-rock belter Graham Bonnet took frontman duties. Together with Ritchie and keyboardist Don Airey, the revitalized Rainbow rendered one of classic rock’s most irresistibly intoxicating platters.
From first song (“All Night Long”) to last (“Lost in Hollywood”), Down to Earth positively pummels with high, hard hooks and sing-along choruses while also expertly showcasing the powers and abilities of this murderer’s row of heavy metal musicianship.
The album’s enduring FM hit, “Since You Been Gone,” typifies all that works about Down to Earth (and that would be everything about Down to Earth). Founded on the bedrock of a “Louie Louie” riff, Graham Bonnet wails out a tale of lament turned borderline obsession in the wake of a lost love while the instrumentalists warmly and wittily continue elevating the song skyward, launching the vocalist ever upward with each new movement.
Few rip-roaring rave-ups about being bummed out and broken hearted are so universally head-bopping and smile inducing upon every listen. Just try not to automatically break the speed limit the next time “Since You Been Gone” comes on your car radio.
Demons and Wizards – Uriah Heep (1972)
Fourth time proved to be the charm for British prog-rockers Uriah Heep. After three previous LPs of downbeat, rambling heavy blues, the group clicked magically into place on Demons and Wizards, a gloriously sprawling, high-intensity album that also largely invented the Dungeons-and-Dragons-esque milieu and motifs in which any number of other genres, in particular power metal, continue to rock forth and flourish.
Side one of Demons and Wizards is a whirlwind of energy and speed, launching forth from opening track “The Wizard” and peaking with Heep’s best-known hit, “Easy Livin’.” Side two gets a little more mystical, leading into the multi-tiered album-closing couplet, “Paradise” and “The Spell.”
From beginning to end, Demons and Wizards bewitches joyously. Uriah Heep has faded in familiarity through the years, but this album alone makes plane that they belong high up in the expansive hard rock pantheon alongside still-vibrant veteran heroes such as Deep Purple, Yes, and Jethro Tull.
A Diamond Is a Hard Rock – Legs Diamond (1977)
Los-Angeles-based Legs Diamond debuted with a properly rump-stomping self-titled LP in late 1976 and, just a few months later, followed up with one of the decade’s most screamingly rich mines of gleaming metal, A Diamond Is a Hard Rock.
From the get go, a cornerstone of Legs Diamond’s greatness is also what confused (too) many listeners and critics: their jarring jump between genres on a track-by-track basis, leaping from one balled-fist jab of concise hard rock immediately to spaced-out, semi-prog treks of epic length and scope—and then back again.
To witness such the band’s split personality in action, just drop a needle on A Diamond Is a Hard Rock’s side one coupling of the keyboard-fueled proto-power-ballad “Waiting” and the radio-friendly fist pumper “Long Shot.” On side two, the same happens with “I Think I Got It” (a two-minutes, fifty-one-second punch-up) and “Evil” (a brash, bulldozing journey that stretches well past the five minute mark).
Make no mistake: each of these songs slays magnificently. So do all the others on A Diamond Is a Hard Rock. Where the record coheres most potently is on “Woman,” a multi-chaptered, tempo-changing anthem that caught on in Middle America where it remains a go-to on classic rock radio. The entire album ought to be a go-to for hard rock fans, anywhere and everywhere.
Metal Church – Metal Church (1984)
“Beyond the Black”
Coming together in San Francisco, then relocating to Aberdeen, Washington—the same deceptively remote locale that also begat Nirvana and the Melvins—Metal Church scorched the U.S. West Coast by revving up the dynamics of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and crossing technical skills with hardcore intensity to deliver one bone-crunching broadside after another.
Metal Church, the band’s simply bluntly first album, is an wholly realized slab of greatness, deeply embraced by headbangers since it first detonated back in 1984, but never quite finding its way into mainstream acceptance—and perhaps that’s as things ought to be.
Still, that premiere LP, emblazoned on the cover with a Gibson Explorer guitar whose neck is shaped like a cross, rightly should always be mentioned in the same breath as the biggest and best extreme rock releases of its era. Just compare the first track “Beyond the Black” or the smashing “Gods of Wrath” to any other peak mid-’80s thrash onslaughts and there’s no denying that Metal Church is as formidable a force as any other during that hard rock pinnacle.
Metal Church frontman David Wayne’s skull-splitting shriek remains one of the genre’s most unique vocal arsenals. Lead axe-shredder Kurdt Vanderhoof, meanwhile, not only blazed a unique sound and style, he won over no less an admirer than a local kid who, for a spell, added an extra “d” to his own first name in tribute to the guitarist: Kurt Cobain.
Angel – Angel (1975)
Although based in Washington, D.C., Angel hit paydirt during a club gig in Kansas where touring superstar Gene Simmons caught their act and immediately brought the band to Kiss’s label, Casablanca Records.
Dressing the band in all white and playing up the heavenly aspects of the androgynously attractive members, Casablanca marketed Angel as the anti-Kiss.
Given that critics loathed Kiss at the time, our Self-Anointed Mainstream Tastemakers really unloaded on Angel. As usual, though, the kids understood and connected to what made this group great. For a while, this outfit had a real shot at rock-and-roll divinity (it should be noted that rock mocker supreme Frank Zappa was most brutal of all, satirically savaging the band in the musical take-down “Punky’s Whips”).
Angel’s self-titled maiden release opens with the seven-minute, largely instrumental “Tower.” It’s a bold stroke that ably showcases Frank DiMino’s vocals and Punky Meadows’ lead guitar, but mostly offers an astonishing demonstration from keyboard player and multi-instrumentalist Greg Giuffria (later of the minor hair metal one-hit-wonders Giuffria).
From there, Angel by Angel is a proto-glam-metal treat bulked up by Led Zep-ish he-man heat and further elevated by Giuffria’s grand organ, string, and orchestral arrangements and the brewing punk energy of its particularly rock-and-roll moment.
Angel put out an album a year until 1980, when they appeared during a concert scene performing the theme song to the Jodie Foster-Cherie Currie coming-of-age cult favorite, Foxes. The band also starred in their own concert film, Angel at Midnight, which was filmed in 1977 and may or may not have ever been completed. To date, it remains one of the most sough-after “lost” Heavy Metal Movies.
Fire Down Under – Riot (1981)
“Live at My Father’s Place, Roslyn, NY – 9/15/1981”
Born on the cracked concrete of New York City, Riot took a few years to build to full-steam might, barreling forward on the strength of two combustive long players, 1977’s Rock City and 1979’s Narita, toward the devastating detonation of their crowning achievement, 1981’s Fire Down Under.
Globally influential UK disc jockey Neal Kay broke Riot overseas just as the New Wave of Heavy Metal crested. As a result, NWOBHM bands and acolytes alike adopted Riot as fearless fellow travelers. So, too, did Sammy Hagar, who took the band out on tour with him as an opening act.
Only adding to the legend of Riot, in general, and Fire Down Below, specifically, is that Capitol Records initially deemed the album “commercially unacceptable” and refused to release it. Fans mounted street protests outside Capitol’s offices and the label relented. In short order, the record proved to be a minor commercial hit and a major artistic triumph.
Fire’s ass-kicking avalanche commences immediately with “Swords and Tequila,” a blazing, balls-past-the-wall opening shot that still reverberates through any and all raucous metal made with a strong heart and raging passion.
The rest of Fire Down Below maintains and sometimes surpasses that drawing of first blood, exploding along the way into a milestone that was above and beyond what the vast majority of Riot’s contemporaries were up to stateside and on par with what their friends across the pond were unleashing in Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon, Def Leppard, and Diamond Head.
Bonded by Blood – Exodus (1985)
“Bonded by Blood”
Bonded by Blood is exactly the reason why thrash metal’s “Big Four” should properly be amended to a “Big Five” lineup of Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Exodus.
To committed metal devotees, of course, Exodus is just that and Bonded by Blood ranks at or near the top of any sane list of the genre’s single greatest song collections. For whatever reason, though, Exodus bubbled just under the mainstream embrace and recognition that their peers and equals continue to enjoy.
It’s ghastly and flat-out wrong that Bonded by Blood does not instantly and automatically come up when casual hard rock fans invoke ’80s masterpieces such as Master of Puppets by Metallica, Reign in Blood by Slayer, Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? By Megadeth, and Among the Living by Anthrax.
As noted, for true metal disciples, Bonded by Blood is always right there among its equals. Still, because Exodus will likely forever rank just below those other household names may well render BBB most underrated and overlooked heavy metal album of all time.
Let’s all go out and do something to change that today.