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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.

The Third Power – Believe (1970)

The Third Power - Believe

MC5 may have started kicking out the jams in 1969, but as the Third Power’s 1970 album Believe proved, there were plenty of other Detroit bands willing to join the rebellion. The trio might not have the status of MC5, and Believe hasn’t got the legendary presence of Kick Out the Jams, but the Third Power gave their all on the debut. Singer and guitarist Drew Abbott, drummer Jim Craig, and bassist Jem Targal rip into psychedelically inclined hard rock tracks like “Gettin’ Together” and “Persecution”, while exhibiting plenty of nuances (and a little leftover hippie shake) on the ballad “Lost in a Daydream”.

The Third Power’s label, Vanguard Records, promptly dropped the band soon after Believe was released, citing various reasons, although it was clear they had no idea what to do with such a howling release. Label woes take nothing away from the fact that Believe is an exhilarating piece of work, and Abbott’s guitar histrionics sound invigorating to this day. See also: Lighting (1968-1971) and SRC (SRC).

Flower Travelling Band – Satori (1971)

Flower Travelling Band - Satori

If you combined the best elements of “Immigrant Song”, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and “Black Sabbath”, and then jumbled those up with Pärson Sound and Blue Öyster Cult, you’d have Flower Travelling Band — a group that sounds vaguely familiar, but wholly original. Formed by Yuya Uchida, the band went through a few different incarnations before settling in for 1971’s Satori. The record contains the five-part “Satori” suite, which journeys out to the edges of the universe on the trip to end all trips, before returning to earth to gaze at sacred bonfires.

You’ll find piercing New York guitar lines, New Orleans blues, eccentric London rock, kaleidoscopic African, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian chimes and smokin’ harp, pummeling percussion, and thrilling hard rock on the album. All are rolled, moistened, and smoked to their embers on Satori, and the 42-minute resulting masterpiece is one of the best heavy rock albums to have ever come out of Japan. See also: Taj Mahal Travellers (August 1974) and Far East Family Band (The Cave – Down to the Earth).

Sir Lord Baltimore – Kingdom Come (1970)

Sir Lord Baltimore - Kingdom Come

Sir Lord Baltimore’s debut, 1970’s Kingdom Come, leaped from proto to full-blown metal with a dagger clenched firmly in its teeth. It’s rumored to be the first US album ever described as ‘heavy metal’ in relation to its genre, and although fans of heavy bands such as MC5 were used to deafening volume and out-right aggression, Kingdom Come was a concussion-inducing bolt out of the blue for many. Mixed at Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland studios, Kingdom Come‘s bludgeoning and distorting blues-based tunes provided a warts-and-all, ear-splitting battery of raw riffing — no surprise the album is routinely hailed as North America’s first truly metal release.

Sir Lord Baltimore’s self-titled 1971 follow-up was tepid in comparison, and management and artistic difficulties put paid to the band ever leading the metal charge. However, although the group split in the mid-1970s, Kingdom Come‘s reverberations have been ongoing. It has proven to be one of metal’s most enduring albums, cited by scores of metal artists as a hugely influential release to this day. See also: Cain (A Pound of Flesh) and Tin House (Tin House).

Elias Hulk – Unchained (1970)

Elias Hulk - Unchained

Elias Hulk was a great example of the old guard meeting the new. Essentially, the UK-based band’s first album, 1970’s Unchained, featured every shade of guitar rock from the era. The UK’s de rigueur blues and prog appeared — with all instruments grabbing solo time. Elias Hulk also settled into a harder groove, with assertive riffing crashing into gentile drifts. Krautrock was evident as well, as was heavily-Doors-influenced psychedelia, and it’s that offbeat mix of everything that makes Unchained so seductive.

Admittedly, that diversity also denied Unchained a large audience, and Elias Hulk split up in 1971. However, Unchained is a great example of trippy rock being introduced to its much crueler progeny, and while the album isn’t a tour de force as such, it certainly provides a tour over fertile and fascinating terrain. See also: Harsh Reality (Heaven & Hell) and Czar (Czar).

Fuse – Fuse (1969)

Fuse - Fuse

Fuse crafted a little-known treasure trove of hard rock on their eponymous debut in 1969. The group is best remembered, if at all, for including Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson in their ranks, both going on to gazillion-selling success with Cheap Trick. However, there was no glam slam shiny pop-rock to be found on Fuse. The album brought late 1960s melodic keyboard-driven jams and bluesy hard rock together, with an undercurrent of pre-metal bubbling under all.

Epic Records rushed Fuse into the studio, and that shows, but Joe Sundberg’s vocals are howlingly successful, with the rest of the band melding acid, hard and progressive rock together well before many more successful early 1970s bands did exactly the same. Fuse has its share of knockers, but Fuse’s dual guitars and rock-solid rhythm section make it a heavy psychedelic album well worth exploring. See also: Babe Ruth (First Base) and Tucky Buzzard (Warm Slash).

I Drive – I Drive (1972)

I Drive - I Drive

I Drive formed in Manchester in the late 1960s, and like many UK acts toured the German club scene for years seeking fame and fortune. Huge success never came (it didn’t help that vocalist Geff Harrison exited in 1971 for 2066 & Then), but the group were picked up by a former Beatles manager and produced a single album in 1972. Thirty songs were tracked for I Drive, but record company machinations saw many of those recordings disappear, and the final product was barely distributed or promoted in Germany, or elsewhere.

It’s a shame really because I Drive is heavy fuzz-laden guitars and Hammond organ (à la early Deep Purple and Uriah Heep) melded to some breakneck proto-metal. I Drive is very much in keeping with the UK 1970s organ rock of the time, and no one is going to claim it’s an innovative release. But with musicianship honed by years on the road, and a full, warm, and grunty production, it’s a severely underrated LP well worth tracking down. See also: Arcadium (Writing on the Wall) and Clear Blue Sky (Clear Blue Sky). 

Kraftwerk – Live on Radio Bremen (1971)

Kraftwerk - Live on Radio Bremen

“Was ist das?” Kraftwerk on an obscure rowdy rockers list? The legendary electronic pioneers might not be your first port of call when pondering underground influences on metal — although Kraftwerk obviously turn up in contemporary avant, progressive, and industrial metal. However, 1971’s Live on Radio Bremen bootleg, featuring Klaus Dinger, Florian Schneider, and Michael Rother, saw Kraftwerk craft a colossal, and yes, head-banging, stoner metal classic.

“Heavy Metal Kids” opens the LP, and then, for over an hour, Kraftwerk mine Black Sabbath’s doomy stomp and Jimi Hendrix’s tempestuous peregrinations, while quarrelsome electronics squirm around in the mix. Kraftwerk never ventured into heavy rocking territory like this again, and really, Live on Radio Bremen is a gigantic “what could have been” tease. For a single night in 1971, they provided a glimpse into pioneering motorik metal — a tempo since explored by transcendental metal acts like OM. Live on Radio Bremen is much more than a fascinating footnote in rock ‘n’ roll history, it’s a seminal jam, with a resounding echo. See also: 2066 &Then (1972, Reflections on the Future) and Jane (1972, Together).

Josefus – Dead Man (1970)

Josefus - Dead Man

Josefus took Southern rock, ditch-weed blues, and dusty boogie, and rejected flower power for hazardously amped rock ‘n’ roll. They made a couple of fantastically grungy LPs in the early 1970s, and their best work is collected on 1970’s Dead Man, which includes a ragtag version of “Gimmie Shelter” that’s all the better for its rawness. Lead guitarist Dave Mitchell and bassist Ray Turner were clearly enamored by Led Zeppelin, Cream, and others, but those influences were slathered by Houston-bound, filthy proto-metal.

Josefus recorded a second self-titled album in 1970 that was similarly gratifying, with the group sounding less indebted to UK heavy blues. Still, Dead Man wins hands down as their best work because it contains the 17-minute title track. “Dead Man” is a disheveled jam that flits between metallic rock and streaming blues, and played at the required volume it’ll leave you weeping and whooping with joy. See also: Red Dirt (Red Dirt) and Barbed Wire Sandwich (Black Cat Bones).

Pentagram – First Daze Here (The Vintage Collection) (1972-1976)

Pentagram - First Daze Here

I’m cheating by throwing Pentagram on the list, given that they are doom legends, but any opportunity to revisit their First Daze Here compilation has to be taken. First Daze Here gathers rehearsal tracks, demos, and scattered recordings of Pentagram jams from the early to mid-1970s, and everything you need to know about troubled vocalist Bobby Liebling and his band’s enduring legacy is here. Later works would come with weightier production, but First Daze Here is ur-doom incarnate, and the follow-up compilation First Daze Here Too only reinforces the fact that Pentagram’s best work is their earliest.

Obviously, Pentagram realize the 1970s are where it’s at too, as they ceaselessly mine their back catalogue for material). If you’re looking to step back in time to visit doom’s beginnings, Pentagram is the perfect, and wholly delinquent, metal forebear to check in with first. See also: Black Widow (Sacrifice), Salem Mass (Witch Burning), Bedemon (Child of Darkness), and Plus (Seven Deadly Sins).