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The Best Proto-Metal Albums From Heavy Metal’s Rowdiest Progenitors

Legions of underground musical legends litter the heavy rock graveyard, and the list below surveys a horde of those rowdy proto-metal rockers.

Granicus – Granicus (1973)

Granicus - Granicus

Boasting a single eponymous album from 1973, Granicus blazed briefly but incandescently. Formed by howling, Robert Page-like vocalist Woody Leffel, bassist Dale Bedford, guitarists Wayne Anderson and Al Pinelli, and drummer Joe Battaglia, they signed to RCA Records for Granicus’s self-titled debut. The album was a commercial flop, and the band broke up soon after, but Granicus is one of US hard rock’s knockout lost treasures.

It features superb songwriting, mixes blistering tracks with contemplative fare, and the 11-minute prog-metal giant “Prayer” is one of the album’s real highlights. There’s no evidence on the LP as to why Granicus failed to capture an audience, but such are the whims of public opinion. In any case, Granicus is much loved by its fans and is a superb example of traces of psychedelia and arena-worthy hard rock finding the perfect balance. See Also: Fraction (Moon Blood) and West, Bruce & Laing (Why Dontcha).

Jerusalem – Jerusalem (1972)

Jerusalem - Jerusalem

Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan took UK hefty rockers Jerusalem under his wing, co-managing the band and producing their 1972, self-titled debut. Jerusalem features some pile-driving New Wave of British Heavy Metal riffing, and in that sense, it’s an album ahead of its time. Elsewhere, well, with Gillan as overlord, Deep Purple certainly appears, albeit in a less grandiose form. In fact, if you’d call Jerusalem anything, “unaffected” suits well. Jerusalem is hard rock meeting proto-metal in a drunken pub-car-park brawl.

There’s bravado to be found, for sure, and some grim riffing and grungy headbangin’ doom, but the album doesn’t bluff. Jerusalem gigged around Europe with Sabbath, Purple, and Heep, but nothing happened for them, and they duly split (two members moving on to form Pussy). Jerusalem may have left only a single album in its wake, but it left a heap of musical ideas that would be capitalized on by others in the decades to come. See also: Pussy (Invasion), Warhorse (Warhorse), and Armageddon (Armageddon).

Dies Irae – First (1971)

Dies Irae - First

There’s no doubting the Devil’s role in inspiring the bands on this list. Combine that with a devotion to ingesting hallucinogens and roll it all up in Kraut, hard, blues, and prog, and you get the German band Dies Irae. First, the only LP from the group, engineered by the esteemed Cony Plank, brought a little controversy upon release. Some radio stations refused to play any of First‘s tracks due to their occult and narcotic advocations, and while First might seem quaint compared to the Satanic championing these days, songs such as “Lucifer”, “Harmagedon Dragonlove”, and the fittingly titled “Trip” bring plenty of wicked swagger and drugged-out stagger.

The bulk of First is a murky pitch into psychedelic and melodic blues, with harmonica jams meeting echoing space rock, and everything sinking into marshlands of acid-drenched feverishness. Think of a fusion of Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and Ash Ra Tempel gobbling benzodiazepines on the come down from an exospheric high and you’re getting close. See also: Hairy Chapter (Eyes/Can’t Get Through), My Solid Ground (My Solid Ground), and Módulo 1000 (Não Fale com Paredes).

Buffalo – Dead Forever (1972) and Volcanic Rock (1973)

Buffalo - Dead Forever

Australian band Buffalo released a handful of barnstorming albums in the 1970s, but their first two, 1972’s Dead Forever and 1973’s Volcanic Rock, are the real antipodean hard rock treasures. The band proved hugely influential on Australia’s boisterous pub rock scene, even if Buffalo found more success in Europe than they ever did at home. You’d be hard-pressed to pick between Dead Forever or Volcanic Rock as Buffalo’s finest work. Both albums feature unhinged and unhygienic hard rock, but “Sunrise (Come My Way)” from Volcanic Rock was as close as they got to a hit, and it’s a perfect example of

Buffalo’s insalubrious rock bound to a strident melodic march. Buffalo’s first two albums set a template that Australian bands like Rose Tattoo would exploit to much chart success, but for a few short years, you didn’t get much burlier Down Under than Buffalo’s stampeding rock. See also: Coloured Balls (1973, Ball Power) and Human Instinct (1970, Stoned Guitar).

Toad – Toad (1972)

Toad - Toad

Celtic Frost and Krokus are Switzerland’s most famous metal exports, and hirsute 1970s four-piece Toad laid the groundwork for both bands. Toad was formed by the bassist and drummer from Krautrock marvel Brainticket (see 1971’s madcap Cottonwoodhill), but instead of following the Krautrock trail, Toad hopped onto the hard rock highway. The group’s virtuoso guitarist ‘Vic’ Vergeat routinely played the guitar with his teeth like the Hendrix disciple he was, and although Toad was never very successful outside Switzerland, it still managed to rope in Martin Birch to engineer and mix its first two albums, 1971’s Toad and 1972’s Tomorrow Blue.

Toad featured the band’s hit “Stay” — three minutes of swampy blues meeting steel-shard riffing — and while Toad had a little further Swiss success, by the mid-1970s they were on the downhill slide. Still, while they faded into obscurity, they jammed like a red-hot power trio on their last day on earth. See 1972’s Open Fire: Live in Basel 1972 for bootlegged fireworks. See Also: Jamul (Jamul) and Road (Road).

Cactus – Cactus (1970)

Cactus - Cactus

It’s stretching the limit to call Cactus obscure, but you’d be surprised how few people have heard their first album. They were formed by Vanilla Fudge’s rhythm section (bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice), and Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart were initially expected to join too, but ex-Amboy Duke singer Rusty Day and guitarist Jim McCarty came on board instead. The band recorded their self-titled debut in 1970 (a few lukewarm releases followed) and Cactus is an outright sweltering shred-fest. Day howls along to McCarty’s ultra-electrified boogie on blistering versions of “Parchman Farm” and “You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover”, and “Oleo” and “Feel So Good” feature abundant jamming, soloing, and howling harp. All up, Cactus is 40 minutes of preeminent hard-hard rock that’s well worth visiting, if you’ve not been there before. See also: Atlee (Flying Ahead) and White Witch (White Witch).

T2 – It’ll All Work Out in Boomland (1970)

T2 - It'll All Work Out in Boomland

When you think of heavy metal’s forebears, it’s understandable your mind wanders to those wielding the meanest riffs first. However, progressive rock made just as much of an imprint on metal as hard rock ever did. British band T2 made a sterling contribution with 1970’s It’ll All Work Out in Boomland. The trio of vocalist/drummer Peter Dunton, bassist Bernard Jinks, and 17-year-old wunderkind guitarist Keith Cross released a single album before internal tensions split the original version of the group.

It’ll All Work Out in Boomland is a fiery LP of stratospheric tunes, but it’s fueled by garage rock and scalding blues as much as meticulously sculpted prog. It’ll All Work Out in Boomland features highly-energized guitar work from Cross as he cuts through Dunton’s soaring harmonies with quick-flash bursts of darkness. The album is loose and groovy, and when all guns are blazing, fantastically intense. See also: Bodkin (Bodkin) and Zior (Zior).

High Tide – Sea Shanties (1969)

High Tide - Sea Shanties

While heavy metal was getting into gear in the US in the late 1960s, High Tide were on the verge of releasing a pre-metal UK masterwork with their debut Sea Shanties. The band was the musical birthing ground of violinist Simon House, who would go on to play with Hawkwind and David Bowie, among others, but vocalist and guitarist Tony Hill, bassist Peter Pavli and drummer Roger Hadden brought their share of weighty ideas and dexterous skills to the table too. The sizzling interplay between Hill’s guitar and House’s violin on Sea Shanties is pure genius, and Hill’s accomplished guitar work is some of the heaviest heard in the late 1960s; see bruisers “Futilist’s Lament” and “Death Warmed Up”.

High Tide never found more than a cult audience and split after Sea Shanties‘s self-titled and more subdued follow-up. However, for one album, High Tide’s distorting riffs, doom-laden lyrics, and pounding percussion saw Herculean prog meld seamlessly with prim(evil) molten rock. Sea Shanties is, unequivocally, indisputably, and irrefutably the best proto-metal album you’ve never heard. See also: Andromeda: (1969, Andromeda) and Haystacks Balboa (1970, Haystacks Balboa).

May Blitz – May Blitz (1970)

May Blitz - May Blitz

May Blitz’s self-titled 1970 album rests alongside Black Sabbath’s debut as a formative UK heavy rock classic. May Blitz wasn’t as heavy-footed as Black Sabbath, but what it lacked in mass was made up for in breadth. May Blitz featured an electric blend of doomy rock and sky-high, unhinged riffing, and while opening the album with the eight-minute-plus “Smoking the Day Away” was a bold gambit, the song puts all of May Blitz’s melodic and muscular accouterments on full display.

“Fire Queen” and “Squeet” are the heaviest and juiciest tracks — with drummer Tony Newman laying down driving beats for guitarist James Black to weave his phosphorescent riffs around. May Blitz’s impressive second album, The 2nd of May was released quickly after its first, but the group dissolved soon after. Taken as a whole, May Blitz’s two albums show a vibrant awareness of a trio maximizing the possibilities (and volume) of their sound. See also Bakerloo (1969, Bakerloo) and Bulbous Creation (1970, You Won’t Remember Dying).