heavy metal

The Top 10 Greatest Metal Demos of All-Time

The bands of today make their music known through the Internet, but generations ago, the demo tape-trading circuit was the method underground bands used for developing their fanbase. I find demo tracks to be much more interesting than live tracks, as it is neat to hear the same band do a slightly different take of a song that became finalized on an album some months or possibly a year later and see how the song evolved. Of course, demos are hit or miss, regardless of whether they were recorded by a legendary metal band that churned out some truly classic albums or some ultra-obscure band that never even got past the demo stage (in many of the latter cases it’s easy to see why they didn’t, but there certainly are diamonds in the rough). The raw production can really hurt or help the quality of the demo. Some demos can also suffer from issues like thin drums and guitar sounds or amateurish execution. Still, far more impressive demos can capture a band in top form that will needs to record an album soon. For the fun of it, I have compiled a list of what I consider the top 10 greatest metal demos of all-time. I felt that this would be more realistic than compiling a list of my top 10 favorite albums, EPs, or songs of all-time. To make the cut, each demo included had to offer something special that was lacking on the subsequent album. Megadeth’s “Last Rites” demo, for instance, is a great demo, but there just isn’t enough to distinguish it from their debut album to convince me to include it. I think you'll find something that you've never heard before in this list, and that the list represents the metal underground on an international scale. Enjoy!

10. Saxon - Kaley Studios Demo (1982)

Most of the demos on this list are from much more obscure bands who were releasing their first or second demo to get their names out there. Given that Saxon had already issued four studio albums prior to this demo and were instantly recognizable to those following the NWOBHM movement, they were much more well-known and more established compared to the other bands at the time of the demo (and still today). This demo set the stage appropriately for their fifth album, “The Power and The Glory”, one of the best records of their career! The amazing title track is very special to me, and an early version of my other favorite song from the album, “Midas Touch”, is included as well. The whole demo should delight any Saxon fan. Despite that fact, there were a few overlooked, crowd-pleasing gems on here that somehow did not make their way on to the album. Luckily, the demo has since been included as bonus tracks.

9. Rommel - Rommel Vol. 1 (1987)

While many metal bands resorted to Satanic lyrics/imagery for the purpose of sparking shock value and controversy, some underground Japanese bands incorporated more of a Nazi image in their act for the same reasons. Rommel was one such band, named after German general Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel. While this insensitive method may have been a major reason why none of those bands made it, Rommel’s musical talents and aggression are prevalent on this demo. Of the three demos they issued in the late-‘80s, this one has what I consider to be some of their best material, particularly “Night Hawk”. The lead work is excellent as well.

8. Destructor - Decibel Casualties (1987)

This demo is comprised of four tunes that were written for what was supposed to be Destructor’s second album, but the band split up for a while following the untimely and tragic death of bassist Dave Holocaust. The material on here continues down the same path of aggressive thrash metal as their debut. Although a couple of songs are even faster than the material on the first album, the slower bridge in “Power Aggression” is one of the demo’s finest moments. Opener “Bring Down the Hammer” is my favorite number on it overall, though. The title of the demo was later used for the band’s 2017 release.

7. Amentia - Demon (1993 or 1994)

This band sounded very different from many other Swedish metal bands, especially for the time period. They played a very crunchy style of death/thrash metal with Max Cavalera-esque vocals. I loved this band’s 1992 demo and didn’t even realize that they had a second demo until I randomly stumbled upon on YouTube one day. I was stoked to hear more material from them, to say the least! Unfortunately, they mysteriously disappeared after this demo, possibly delving into even deeper depths of obscurity.

6. Amentia - Demo (1992)

Both of their demos are awesome, but I have to give this one the higher ranking. Both demos are quite similar and are characterized by a very crunchy guitar sound, and very heavy riffs, but I just like the songs a little better on this one overall. If they had just issued a couple of albums before disappearing they would have surely owned the 1990s!

5. Forced Entry - All F**ked Up (1987)

Nirvana was the best power trio to ever come out of Seattle, WA? When I was 12 I would have thought so, but would not even dream of saying that now! Forced Entry was clearly still trying to find their sound at the time of this demo, and while I will admit that their debut album possesses more originality, they still showed a lot of talent here and the songs on this demo are just as great! This four-song demo kicks off with its trashiest number, “Frigid B***h”, then starts to show more melodic speed/power metal tendencies. Its closing track, “Get F**ked Up”, did make its way to the band’s 1991 record, “As Above, So Below”, and most closely resembles the sound that they developed more on their later demos and two full-length albums. However, much like the original potential title of Metallica’s debut, the title of the song did not resonate with their record company. Without making the lyrics more kid-friendly, the song was renamed “How We Spent Our Summer Vacation”, thereby making it an appropriate back-to-school jam for drunken college headbangers.

4. Dark Angel - Hell’s On Its Knees (1984)

This should not come as a surprise at all to anybody that knows me personally or follows my articles often. Don’t be turned off because this demo pre-dates legendary drummer Gene Hoglan’s arrival to the fold, the band thrashes like hell on here! Debut album highlights “Hell’s On Its Knees” and “We Have Arrived” are shorter and played in a different key this time. The former song has a different solo, and the latter song is even faster than it is on the album version. The demo features three other outstanding Dark Angel tunes that were never released on any of their records. I am a big Dark Angel fan and enjoy their whole discography, but not including those other three gems on their debut—especially the glorious “Eternal Captivity”—was arguably the biggest mistake of the band’s career!

3. Persecution - Tortured Existence (1989)

Australia churned out some truly brutal underground metal in the late-‘80s and beyond. If these guys hadn’t disbanded far too early, they probably would have dominated the whole scene! The band originally formed under the moniker No Remorse and issued one less-than-stellar demo called “Stroke of Death” under that name. However, with their new name and follow-up demo, the band grew much harsher and more aggressive, especially with regard to the vocals and drums. They also incorporated a lot of different riffs into one song. Highly recommended for fans of ‘80s Slayer, Kreator, and Sacrifice. This is one violent and bestial demo that definitely left me wishing that this band had issued a few full-length albums!

2. Protector - Protector of Death (1986)

This two-song demo is a perfect example of quality outweighing quantity. It starts with a very dark and atmospheric intro with keyboards and church bells but then kicks into one of the most intense recordings of the ‘80s! The riffs on this demo are very reminiscent of other cult German thrash metal bands from the time like Assassin, Exumer, and Deathrow. The vocals, however, are more guttural, making this band an early hybrid of thrash and death metal. The demo continues to maintain the dark tone set by its instrumental intro through those characteristics as well as the production. Who says you have to sacrifice atmosphere for pure chaos? As great as Protector’s 1988 full-length “Golem” is, this demo really is their career highlight. The recordings of these two songs on that album just don't come close to the brutality found on the demo versions just two years earlier! Play it at night with the lights out!

1. Wild Dogs - Dead to the World (1989)

Like Forced Entry, Wild Dogs are another Pacific Northwestern act that still gets frequently overlooked even in an age when all sorts of information and music are instantly accessible. It’s unclear whether this seven-song collection really constitutes as a demo or was intended to be the actual studio album and was left incomplete. I will still count it and place it at the top either way. The Dogs were already delving more into speed metal territory on their third album, 1987’s “Reign of Terror”, but I honestly think this demo was their finest moment and makes all of their previous material sound like teenybopper music! The first track, “Living on the Bad Side” is difficult to play without repeating because of its beautiful and captivating melodies. The anti-censorhip rager “Metal Free America”, a furiously-executed speed metal attack on the PMRC, is equally addictive. Unfortunately, the Dogs split up before their fourth album was finished, and it seems like they tend to call it quits at the worst possible time. I was mighty pumped when they announced that they’d be performing at the NYDM Spring Bash Festival in Milwaukee last year, but was absolutely crushed to find out that they disbanded again before the festival. Make sure your copy of "Reign of Terror" features this recording as bonus tracks. Otherwise, you're settling.

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Tags:  top 10PersecutionDestructorProtectorForced Entry

    April 17, 2020

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