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Metal in the USA — The First Five Albums That Made America Throw Devil Horns

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In the early 80s, heavy metal emerged out of the underground and it was independent releases, especially compilation albums, that kickstarted the scene… Here are five albums that were responsible for heavy metal’s US rise.

Compilation albums ignite US heavy metal

Heavy metal was big in the early 80s in the UK, following Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, the so-called “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” (NWOBHM) saw a number of groups gaining popularity overseas but it happened in the United States.

However, following the release of compilation albums below beginning in 1982, the US heavy metal scene quickly took off. The emphasis in the albums that follow, is not on the popish metal coming out of LA, but the groups that put the heaviness in heavy metal.

1. Metal Massacre (1982)

This classic compilation album is historic on many levels. Metal Massacre was the first release for independent label Metal Blade Records and its label owner/producer Brian Slagel.

The album not only put metal on the map in a big way in the US – it introduced America and the world to a slew of unsigned bands that would make metal history, including Metallica.


Most of the recordings are demos, so don’t expect stellar production. However, what you’ll hear is metal in its purest and rawest form and that is often much more exciting than slick studio polishing. The hunger in the artists featured is inescapable and the performances burn with fury.

The album features: Steeler, Bitch, Malice, Ratt, Avatar, Cirith Ungol, Demon Flight, Pandemonium, Malice, and Metallica (listed as “Mettallica” and a lineup with Dave Mustaine [Megadeth] on lead guitar rather than Kirk Hammett).

Likely due to the bands becoming signed to bigger labels, a second pressing swapped out Black ‘n Blue for Steeler. A third pressing removed Ratt.

2. Speed Kills (The Very Best In Speed Metal) (1985)

As the antithesis to the poppy metal coming out of LA, as well as advancing metal to the next level of heaviness and energy, thrash and speed metal emerged.

Speed Kills is a compilation showcases the early innovators of these then-new styles and the results are flawless. The album features Hollows Eve, Exodus, Destruction, Bulldozer, Metallica, Slayer, Possess, Exciter, Venom, Voi Void, Megadeth, and Celtic Frost.


3. Metal Massacre II (1982)

This compilation album is legendary for introducing another batch of bands that would go on to define the genre, as well as notable for the members of various groups who would go on to make a name for themselves and other metal bands.

Metal Massacre II features Armored Saint, 3rd Stage Alert, Surgical Steel, Obsession, Savage Grace, Overkill, War Load, Trauma, Dietrich, Molten Leather, Hyksos, and Aloha.

Of note: Trauma featured Cliff Burton who later became the bassist for Metallica; Aloha featured Marty Friedman, later of Cacophony and Megadeth; Surgical Steel featured Jeff Martin and Greg Chaisson who reunited in Badlands; The Overkill on the compilation is not the same as the East Coast Overkill

4 & 5. US Metal: Unsung Guitar Heroes Vol. I & II (1982)

For metal guitar lovers only…Two album reviews for the price of one. These were the first two album releases for Shrapnel Records and both albums came out the same year, introducing the world to some mind-blowing guitarists who would go on to make names for themselves in the metal world.

At the time, guitar shredding like this had not been heard before.

Most of the tracks on these albums were original instrumentals written to showcase the playing skills of the guitarists. Of the two albums, Volume II introduced more guitar heroes who went on to greater future success.

Vol I features Em Kay, Greg Strong, Terry Kilgore, Lyle Dean Workman Jr., Henry Hewitt, Carl McLaughlin, John Police, and Isaak Newton.

Volume II features Jeff Mark, Mister Varney, John Ricci (Exciter), John DeVol, Kjartan Kristoffersen, Derek Frigo (Enuff Z’Nuff), Josh Ramos,  David “Rock” Feinstein, Mike Batio, Marty Friedman (Megadeth), Jack Starr, and Steve Richards.

Shrapnel Records would continue to grow as a label, continuing to feature and introduce some of the world’s best guitarists, musicians, and groups in the metal genre.