Speed metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that emerged in the late 1970s and gained popularity in the 1980s, alongside the known NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal). The NWOBHM rocked the heavy metal scene in the early-mid-1980s. It had fast songs with power chords, quick guitar solos, and vocals. Bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Venom, Saxon, and Motörhead, along with some not-so-famous ones, shaped the music that inspired American bands in the '80s. The genre got its name from Deep Purple's "Speed King." They started recording the song in 1969, almost 10 years before the style became known. It's not just speedy and technical but also super loud, causing noticeable distortion during recording.
Speed metal emphasizes fast guitar work, featuring rapid guitar solos, riffs, and techniques. The genre often incorporates complex song structures and displays technical proficiency from musicians. Speed metal typically features double bass drumming, driving rhythms, and energetic performances.
The guitar-driven nature of speed metal sets it apart, with guitarists often employing alternate picking techniques and rapid scales. The vocals in speed metal can vary, ranging from aggressive to high-pitched and soaring. The genre's fast tempo and aggressive instrumentation create an intense and exhilarating listening experience.
Lyrically, Speed Metal covers a wide range of themes, including social and political commentary, personal struggles, rebellion, and fantasy. Speed metal bands may explore darker subjects such as war, violence, and societal issues.
Some speed metal bands focus on fantasy and science fiction themes, drawing inspiration from literature, mythology, and epic storytelling. The lyrics can convey a sense of empowerment, encouraging listeners to break free from constraints and embrace individuality.
For example, in Metallica's classic "Battery," the lyrics depict themes of inner strength, resilience, and overcoming challenges. The song's intense and rapid instrumentation is complemented by lyrics that convey a sense of empowerment.
Speed metal has seen the rise of influential bands and artists who have made lasting contributions to the genre. Some notable speed metal artists include Accept, Exciter, Venom, Helloween, and Agent Steel.