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20 Titans of German Heavy Rock

I've been writing about foreign travel and European rock music online for over 12 years.

You can’t discuss German rock without discussing The Scorpions.

You can’t discuss German rock without discussing The Scorpions.

Made In Germany

The hot blast furnaces of the industrial powerhouse of Central Europe have forged some of the hardest and strongest metal in the music business. These ever-popular exports from the land of Audi and Pilsner beer have assailed the welcoming ears of rock aficionados since the 1970s.

With the artistic prowess of Vorsprung durch Technik (Efficiency, Progress and Technology) dipped in the Reinheitsgebot mark of excellence, these rockers have kept the indelible stamp of "Made in Germany" on endless CD racks and download buttons of the international record market.

Teutonic Titans

Here are 20 of the best German Heavy Rock bands, covering classic rock through to thrash, power, speed, and even melodic death metal, all fired from the axes of these maniacal hordes of hard licks and loud guitars.

1. Accept

Created in 1968 in Solingen, early members included vocalist Udo Dirkschneider and Michael Wagener, who later became a famous producer. They were originally called Band X, but changed to Accept in 1976 with a new lineup.

Success came in 1983 when their 5th album Balls to the Wall attained gold-status in the USA. They split in 1989, again in 1997, had a brief reunion in 2005, and eventually got back together again in 2009, albeit without Udo. Musically the band had split into two camps: Those who preferred a more commercial sound and those who remained hardcore.

Udo wasn't for compromising their heavy sound and he left. He was replaced by Mark Tornillo and, in fact, they found success with the albums Blood of the Nations, Stalingrad, and Blind Rage. In addition to their anthem, "Balls to the Wall," you should lend your ear to "Teutonic Terror", "Metal Heart", "Princess of the Dawn" and "Fast as a Shark".

2. Die Apokalyptischen Reiter

From Weimar, Die Apokalyptischen Reiter began in 1995. They combine a heavy thrash sound with subtle melodies where rasping guitars often blend with cultured piano. Although always remaining a heavy rock band they have experimented with ambient sounds and jazz influences.

They sing in both English and German and have averaged an album every two years in a prolific back catalogue. The breakthrough came in 2000 with All You Need is Love, the success of which was backed by a long European tour, including a slot at Wacken Open Air. They also played a popular set at the Download Festival in 2010.

Have a listen to "Friede Sei Mit Dir", "Es Wird Schlimmer", "Die Sonne Scheint", "Der Weg" and "Nach der Ebbe".

3. Blind Guardian

A power metal band from Krefeld in North Westphalia, Blind Guardian were formed in 1984 by Hansi Kürsch and Andre Olbrich. Originally called Lucifer's Heritage they changed their name to Blind Guardian. This was to avoid being branded as Satanists or even to be mistaken for a Black Metal musical cabal.

Around 2005 they started to embellish their sound into a more progressive rock style. They added lush orchestral instrumentation and lots of layers of vocals and guitar in the manner of legendary rockers Queen.

They also introduced some Folk Rock influence such as "The Bard's Song" into their music. Other top songs to check out are "Battlefield", "And Then There Was Silence", "Mirror Mirror" and "The Twilight of the Gods".

4. Bohse Onkles

Originally formed as a Punk band in 1980 in Frankfurt am Main. Singing in German, Bohse Onkles translates as "Evil Uncles". They developed a more Hard Rock sound and their peak came in the 1990's, especially with the album E.I.N.S, which has sold over half a million copies.

However, after a performance at the Wacken Festival in 2004 the band announced their break up. But, 10 years later they reformed and controversy has never seemingly left.

Throughout their career, Böhse Onkelz has been accused of right-wing tendencies, which have harmed sales of their records. The band has always denied these accusations and, in fact, have written several songs against extremism, racism and all forms of hate. Among their most popular songs are "Auf Gute Freunde", "Nichts ist für Immer da" and "Eine Dieser Nächte".

5. Bonfire

Founded in Ingolstadt as Cacumen in 1972 by Hans Ziller. In 1986 they changed their name to Bonfire. They were towering exponents of the melodic Hair Metal days of the 1980s.

Their sound owed a lot to the skills of producer Michael Wagener and later by the celebrated engineer/producer Mack, who worked with Queen and ELO. The original founder Ziller is still in the band and retains the rights to their name.

With strong melodic songs this tight outfit has brought out many great tunes and the production values mean they still sound fresh today. Check out rockin' classics like "Sweet Obsession", "Hard on Me", "Sword and Stone", "Under Blue Skies" and the beautiful acoustic track "Who's Foolin' Who?"

6. Destruction

An influential Thrash band who started in 1985, Destruction was originally influenced by Iron Maiden, but were soon seduced by the heavier sound of English metallers, Venom. Their first album was Infernal Overkill in 1985 followed quickly by Eternal Devastation the following year.

However, by the 1990s they were without a label, so they self-produced their own albums. They eventually signed to Nuclear Blast Records and more albums followed in the new century. They have a loyal following in Europe, are popular in South America and have toured the USA.

Frontman Schmier is an icon of the genre and something of an elder statesman in the German metal scene. Check out "Carnivore", "Thrash Till Death", "Under Attack", "Total Disaster" and "Hate is My Fuel".

7. Gamma Ray

A power metal band from Hamburg, Gamma Ray burst onto the scene in 1989 and have been led by Kai Hansen who had previously been in Helloween. The group suffered from an unstable lineup in their early days—which actually included vocalist Ralf Scheepers, later of Primal Fear.

By 1997, Hansen, Dirk Schlächter, Henjo Richter, and Dan Zimmermann settled into a 15-year period of consistent personnel. Hansen is still Gamma Ray's lead vocalist, guitarist, and chief songwriter. However, in 2015, Frank Beck joined the band as co-lead singer.

The band is regarded as one of the most prominent in German heavy metal but have diversified through the years by encompassing keyboards, acoustic instruments, conceptual themes and experimenting with an even harder thrash sound. Among their best tunes are "To the Metal", "Man on a Mission", "Land of the Free", "Send Me a Sign" and "Heaven or Hell".

8. Grave Digger

Grave Digger was formed in November 1980 and came from Gladbeck in Westphalia. Their debut album took four years to appear with the release of Heavy Metal Breakdown in 1984.

After three albums, they changed their name to Digger and recorded a more AOR sound in keeping with the mid-80's Soft Rock of the likes of Bon Jovi and Def Leppard.

It was a bad decision and they broke up in 1987, but returned in 1991 with their original name and two years later released their comeback record, The Reaper.

Although they've endured many line-up changes they are still making records and playing live. Among their best-loved songs are "Lionheart", "Rebellion", "Knights of the Cross", "William Wallace" and "Excalibur".

9. Heaven Shall Burn

Formed in 1996 by Maik Weichert and Matthias Voigt, Heaven Shall Burn hails from Saalfeld in Thuringia. They were originally named Consense, but when Marcus Bischoff and Eric Bischoff joined the band, they re-christened themselves Heaven Shall Burn.

They are a melodic death metal band who have enjoyed success in Europe and beyond. Their first album Asunder was released in 2000, followed by Whatever it May Take in 2002.

They have enjoyed many invitations to play high profile festivals across Europe, the USA, South America and Australia and are often regarded as unsung heroes with a loyal following. Check out tracks "Voice of the Voiceless", "Hunters Will Be Hunted", "Endzeit", "Godiva" and "The Weapon They Fear".

10. Helloween

Group officially formed in 1983 although they had existed in one form or another before. A riff-dominated power metal band, Helloween specialize in epic tunes but are not averse to humour, as their classic 'Dr. Stein' testifies

Their name came about as original member Kai Hansen explained: "Halloween comes but once a year, but you can have Helloween every day". They became hugely popular in the late 1980s with their albums Keeper Of The Seven Keys: Part 1 (1987) and Part 2 (1988) allowing them to bask in international success.

The late '80s and early '90s were a time of instability, with Hansen leaving the band in 1989 to form Gamma Ray and singer Michael Kiske following shortly thereafter. The chaos culminated in the tragic suicide of ex-drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg.

Helloween has had their ups and downs ever since, with a resurgence of success in recent years, and Hansen and Kiske rejoining the band for a 2017 tour. Top rocking tunes (among many) include "Kids of the Century", "I Want Out", "Future World", "I'm Alive" and "Forever and One".

11. Kingdom Come

This Hamburg group was formed in 1987 and the following year they released their self-titled debut LP. It went platinum and received a lot of airplay on US radio and MTV. Kingdom Come opened the North American Monsters of Rock Tour in 1988, which was headlined by Van Halen.

However, like fellow 80's rockers Whitesnake, The Cult and Billy Squier, the band was criticized for copying Led Zeppelin in songs like '"Get it On." This led the Germans to be nicknamed "Kingdom Clones".

Their 1989 album In Your Face sold almost half a million records, but surprisingly, the group broke up soon after. However, they quickly reformed with a new lineup and a third album, Hands of Time, in 1991.

The band has been recording albums and touring ever since then with stand-out tracks being "Come What Love May Be", "Stargazer", "Living Out of Touch" and "Twilight Cruiser".

12. Kreator

This thrash band from Essen was founded in 1982. Though originally named Tyrant, they quickly changed their name to Kreator. Along with Destruction, Sodom and Tankard, Kreator is one of the "Big Four" of Teutonic thrash metal.

Their first album was Endless Pain followed by Pleasure To Kill in 1986. But it was their fourth album, 1989's Extreme Aggression, which saw them breakthrough and enjoy a hit record throughout Europe.

They experimented with Death Metal and Industrial sounds in the early 1990s, but in 2001 they returned to their classic Thrash Metal style. Kreator signed with Nuclear Blast in early 2010 before embarking on a North American tour to celebrate their 25th anniversary

Thirty years on, they’re still making records and among their best are "Gods of Violence", "Violent Revolution", "Phantom Antichrist" and "Civilization Collapse".

13. Doro Pesch

A legendary rock goddess who was born in Düsseldorf in 1964, Doro Pesch started her career singing with the bands Beast and Attack. In 1982 she formed Warlock with Peter Szigeti, Rudy Graf, Thomas Studier, and Michael Eurich.

Their blend of classic heavy metal with power ballads brought some moderate fame, especially the songs "All We Are" and "Burning the Witches". This success was helped by Doro's voice and status as the poster girl for the '80s headbanger fraternity.

Prestigious support slots came their way in Europe, as they opened for W.A.S.P, Judas Priest and Dio. In the US, they opened for legendary thrashers Megadeth. However, the group broke up in 1989 and Doro went her own way releasing her first solo album Force Majeure in the same year.

Now a respected veteran of old school Heavy Rock, Doro continues to command a loyal following in Europe. Some of her best solo hits in both English and German are "Raise Your Fist in the Air", "Metal Tango", "Fur Immer" and "Herzblut".

14. Primal Fear

Primal Fear was founded in October 1997 by singer Ralf Scheepers and Mat Sinner. Their self-titled debut album was released in '98, which was followed by tours with Running Wild and Hammerfall. In 2003, the band travelled throughout North America on the "Metal Gods Tour" with Rob Halford and Testament.

Their lyrics involve sci-fi and fantasy, but some claim their lyrics are metaphors about politics and society. In 2006, they left Nuclear Blast Records and signed with Frontiers Records. It seemed to work since their biggest commercial success to date came in 2012 with the album Unbreakable.

To hear classic Primal Fear, check out "Armageddon", "King for a Day", "Angels of Mercy", "When Death Comes Knocking", "Along Came the Devil" and "The End is Near".

15. Rage

Started in 1984 by Peter Wagner in Herne. Originally called Avenger, they changed their name to Rage in 1985 to avoid confusion with an Engish band of the same name. They specialize in Power Metal and Speed Metal metal and were actually one of the pioneers of the genre.

The band has undergone multiple personnel changes over the years with Wagner being the only original member. Highlights of their career include signing with Noise Records in 1985, and releasing their 1992 album Trapped, which was popular worldwide.

After changing record labels, Rage had even more success with the 1995 album Black in Mind. They followed this with a world tour and a raising of their international profile, especially in Europe and Japan. Their next album, 1996's groundbreaking Ligua Mortis, saw a Metal band play with a full symphony orchestra for the first time.

2004 was Rage's 20th anniversary and they celebrated with a live CD and DVD. Songs to check out include "The Edge of Darkness", "Don't Fear the Winter", "Empty Hollow" and "Scared to Death".

16. Rammstein

Rammstein was formed in 1994 in Berlin. The band's first album Herzeleid came the next year. They quickly gained a reputation as a killer live band, and chart success followed in Germany. Their second album, Sehnsucht, got so popular that they played large arenas throughout Europe.

They have entertaining and theatrical live shows full of fire and pyrotechnic elements which, when combined with their pounding Industrial sound and guttural German lyrics, makes for a sensational visual and sonic experience. Despite singing in their native tongue, they have enjoyed great international success, selling tens of millions of records worldwide.

After a busy period in the early 2000's, Rammstein started taking longer breaks between albums. Maybe because they kept a lower profile, they sold out a 2009 Madison Square Garden show in minutes, and headlined festivals like Sonisphere in 2010 and 2014, and Download in 2016. Some of their top tunes are "Du Hast", "Engel", "Sonne", "Ich Will", "Amerika", "Wo Bist Du?", "Pussy" and "Mein Land".

17. Uli Jon Roth

A legendary guitarist born in Dusseldorf in 1954. He joined the Scorpions lineup in 1973 when he was still in his teens! However, he left five years later to form his own band, Electric Sun. They released three albums before Roth went solo in the mid-1980's.

Since then he has plowed his own furrow as one of the most naturally gifted lead guitarists in the business. His guitar style has ranged from blues-based rock to classical and he has even composed four symphonies and two concertos. In fact, he's performed with symphony orchestras throughout Europe. He is also the founder of Sky Academy and inventor of the Sky Guitar.

Roth appeared in concert with the Scorpions onstage at the Wacken Open Air Festival in 2006 and then on several tours afterward. Hear his guitar playing on "Sky Overture", "Cry of the Night", "Aqua Vitae" and "Bridge to Heaven", as well as his interpretations of classics by Jimi Hendrix and Cream.

18. Running Wild

This band formed in 1976 in Hamburg and were originally called Granite Hearts. They changed their name to Running Wild in 1979 after a song by Judas Priest.

The original members were Rolf Kasparek, Uwe Bendig, Michael Hofmann and Jörg Schwarz. The band recorded their first demo in 1981 and adopted a Pirate Metal theme, with lyrics about with historical events.

Running Wild really only existed part-time after 2009, even briefly spliting up after the 2011 Wacken Festival. However, they reformed a year later.

Despite all the instability and personnel changes, Rolf has been there from the beginning and continues to be the main creative force of the band. Running Wild's best songs include "Conquistadores", "Blazon Stone", "Riding the Storm", "The Privateer", "Revolution" and "The Brotherhood".

19. The Scorpions

The Scorpions were formed in Hanover in 1965 by Rudolf Schenker. In 1970, Schenker's younger brother Michael joined on guitar, as did vocalist Klaus Meine. Three years later, Michael left and Uli Roth took over on lead guitar. However, Roth left in 1978 and he was replaced by Matthias Jabs.

The band has sold over 100 million records and have played to massive audiences. The post-Cold War anthem, "Wind of Change," is one of the best-selling singles ever, with over 14 million copies sold worldwide.

The Scorpions have received three World Music Awards, were enshrined in Hollywood's Rock Walk, and are in the permanent exhibition of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

With too many great songs to mention, I recommend any of the following: "Loving You Sunday Morning", "The Zoo", "Blackout", "Rock You Like a Hurricane", "Still Loving You", "Rhythm of Love", "Under the Same Sun", "321" and "Raised on Rock".

20. Sodom

From Gelsenkirken, Sodom was formed in 1981, and were a pioneer of Germany thrash metal. They were also one of the prime influences on the Norwegian Black Metal scene of the 1990s.

Their first album, Obsessed By Cruelty, eventually arrived in 1986. Their early lyrics were about Satanism and the occult, but they soon moved into writing about politics, society, and anti-war songs. This period in the late 1980's was when their music changed from Black Metal to Thrash.

They have undergone many lineup changes, with lead man, Tom Angelripper, the only original member. But, they are still going strong and tearing up the stages of the world with tracks like "City of God", "Agent Orange", "Remember the Fallen", "The Saw is the Law" and "Magic Dragon".

In Conclusion

As the commercials used to say, "All these and many, many more available now." These Heavy German Rock tracks will power up your day and keep you rocking until midnight, when the best parties begin.

Crack open the Jagermeister and find your own flavour of Teutonic Metal after enjoying our sampling of 20 of the best. There are more out there in the electric ether just waiting for your download.

Guten appetit!

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