The Bands that Defined a Decade: The Rise of 1980s Independent Metal.
The 1980s: a decade often remembered for its neon lights, larger-than-life hairstyles, and the birth of MTV. Yet, beneath the mainstream’s glittering surface, the American independent metal scene was forging its own legacy, one that would leave an indelible mark on music history. This was a time when artists, driven by fervor and tenacity, dared to chart their own course, often against the tide of commercial expectations. Alexandros Anesiadis, in his meticulously crafted “Heroes of the Metal Underground,” offers a window into this vibrant epoch, capturing the essence of bands that became legends in their own right.
From the raw energy of M.C. Blade to the haunting melodies of Cirith Ungol, from the fierce riffs of Heathen’s Rage to the groundbreaking sounds of Brocas Helm, the book paints a vivid picture of a scene that was as diverse as it was influential. These bands, and many others, not only defined a generation but also laid the groundwork for countless artists that followed.
What inspired you to write a definitive guide on 1980s American independent metal bands?
Loved the fact that there was a massive DIY aspect behind all those bands. I’m a punk, with a massive love for tiny and underproduced, self-released stuff, and actually those kind of metal bands (alongside with NWOBHM) are the only ones from metal I enjoy.
How did you go about researching and gathering information for this book?
Phew, that was a pain! Speaking with collectors, forums, boards, databases, as well as 1980s fanzines were my guides. I am a record collector too (mainly hardcore, punk and garage), and I knew quite many of those metal bands in the first place though.
How do you think the 1980s independent metal scene influenced the broader music industry?
Everything that went on to become huge, started from those independent metal bands. Every musical subgenre has its roots in the underground.
Can you share a memorable story or anecdote from your interactions with any of the bands featured in the book?
So many! My favorite story though includes Street Child, and how their record nowadays is a huge rarity. Nelson Wakefield (member of the band) shared an apartment with Steve Buckley. The irony of this story is that after Street Child disbanded, Nelson had several boxes of the albums in their small apartment. When Steve got married and bought a house, he took them and had them in his attic for years (1995 – 2000). In 2001 Steve moved to another new house and asked Nelly what to do with the boxes of albums. He said, “Just toss them, no one will ever listen to them.” So Steve literally threw out all the boxes of the EP. Years later Nelson called Steve to say that the album was selling on Ebay for some ridiculous amount of money. Who knew!
How do you think the independent metal scene of the 1980s differs from today’s independent music scenes?
Means of production (homes-studios), easy accesibility (YT, Bandcamp etc), but also a total lack of originality today…
What challenges did these independent metal bands face in getting their music out to the public?
I guess that the competition between great bands was huge, and the 1980s it was really difficult for an indie metal band to get its music known; there were so many unique, great bands everywhere, with huge corporations like EMI backing them in marketing, so it was definitely very hard for those indie bands to be heard.
How did the East Coast, West Coast, and Central metal scenes differ from each other during the 1980s?
East Coast had a definite hardcore/punk influence-most bands sound rawer, harder. West Coast bands were slicker, while Central America bands had a more hard-to-get into style, and were sounding like they were based on the 1970s hard rock and progressive rock bands.
Were there any bands that you wanted to include in the book but couldn’t due to certain constraints?
No, not at all. One thing that saddens me though is that I had reviewed about 350 more bands, but the Word file got lost in an endless sea of Word files, only to discover it a few days later of the submission of the final draft! So, hopefully those ones will be added in the second edition.
How do you think the underground press and fanzines of the 1980s contributed to the success of these bands?
It was the Alpha and Omega. Without the underground press and fanzines, those bands would never have got even this tiny exposure.
What role did record labels play in the success or struggles of these independent bands?
When we are talking about big labels, I think that all they wanted was to find a good indie band, offer them a contract, and flush them down to the next musical trend. This was even the case is smaller, more metal-oriented labels. Everybody looked out for the new Iron Maiden, the new Metallica etc etc, and when this wasn’t the case, they dropped the bands.
How did the cultural and political climate of the 1980s influence the music and lyrics of these bands?
You can see that many of those bands have lyrics regarding Nuclear War (or the fear of it)-it’s not all ‘party and drugs’. Again, something that the current rock and metal scene lacks, is dealing with problems of today-but we have the hardcore punk scene to do it!
Were there any common themes or messages that these bands conveyed through their music?
The most classic is escapism. Escape from society.
How do you view the legacy of 1980s independent metal bands in today’s music industry?
The resurgence of interest on those 1980s independent metal bands means something; people seek out authenticity, originality, and music played and recorded by human beings, not ultra-slick, modern, huge productions. So, there are labels today (Cult Metal, No Remorse etc) that release records by new bands, that are based into those 1980s sounds.
Were there any collaborations or rivalries among the bands that stood out during this era?
I guess they were, but no band mentioned any rivalry! In terms of collaborations, many bands included members that went on to appear in other bands later (e.g. Ruffians and Vicious Rumors and Villain).
Are there any modern bands or artists that you see carrying the torch of the 1980s independent metal spirit?
Tales of Medusa. Unbelievable clever band. And also (even if I don’t like their sound), Black Sword Thunder Attack.
Topics: Alexandros Anesiadis Metal Book, 1980s Independent Metal Bands, Cirith Ungol 1980s Contributions, M.C. Blade’s Influence in Metal, Brocas Helm’s Musical Legacy, 1980s Underground Metal Scene Analysis
Matteo Damiani is an Italian photographer and author. Curator of the sites Retrofuturista.com; weirditaly.com; china-underground.com and others