The Best of German Heavy Rock: 20 Teutonic Titans
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 the Audi and the Pilsner beer have assailed the welcoming ears of rock aficionados since the 1970s.
With the artistic prowess of 'Vorsprung Durch Technik' dipped in the Reinheitsgebot mark of excellence, they have kept the indelible stamp of "Made in Germany" on the endless CD racks and download buttons of the international record market.
Here are 20 of the best, 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.
Created in 1968 in Solingen and 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 line-up.
Success came in 1983 when their 5th album Balls to the Wall attained gold-status in the USA.
They split in 1989 and then again in 1997 and apart from a brief reunion in 2005 they eventually got back together again in 2009, albeit without Udo. Musically the band had split into two camps who preferred either a more commercial sound or to remain hardcore.
Udo wasn't for compromising in their heavy sound and he left. He was replaced by Mark Tornillo and in fact, they found even more success with the albums Blood of the Nations, Stalingrad, and Blind Rage. But as well as their anthemic "Balls to the Wall" song, 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, this band 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.
They 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, the band's name 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 them.
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'.
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 had 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 of 'Who's Foolin' Who?'
An influential Thrash band who started in 1985.Originally influenced by Iron Maiden they were soon seduced by the heavier sound of other English metallers Venom.
Their first album was 'Infernal Overkill' in 1985 followed quickly by 'Eternal Devastation' the following year.
However, by the 1990s they had no label and had to produce their own albums. They eventually signed to Nuclear Blast records and more albums followed in the new century. As well as a loyal following in Europe they are also 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.
They burst onto the scene in 1989.
They have been led by Kai Hansen who had previously been in Helloween.
The group suffered from an unstable line-up in their early days which had actually included vocalist Ralf Scheepers later of Primal Fear. Eventually, in 1997 Hansen, Dirk Schlächter, Henjo Richter, and Dan Zimmermann settled into a 15-year period of consistent personnel.
Hansen is still the current lead vocalist, guitarist as well as the chief songwriter of Gamma Ray. However in 2015 they were joined by Frank Beck to share lead vocals,
The band is regarded as one of the most prominent in German heavy metal but have diversified through the years by encompassing keyboards, acoustic, 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
This band was formed in November 1980 and come from Gladbeck in Westphalia.
Their debut album took 4 years to appear with the release of 'Heavy Metal Breakdown' in 1984
However, after another 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 they came back from the dead in 1991 with their original name and 2 years later released their comeback record called '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
Coming from Saalfeld in Thuringia, they were originally named Consense.
Marcus Bischoff and Eric Bischoff joined them and they were re-christened Heaven Shall Burn.
They are a melodic death metal band who have enjoyed success in Europe and beyond. Their first album was 'Asunder' released in the year 2000 quickly 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 in 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'.
Group officially formed in 1983 although they had existed in one form or another before. A riff-dominated power metal band.
They 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' Parts 1 and 2 which basked in international success.
Hansen subsequently left the band in 1989 to form Gamma Ray. Others followed during a time of instability in the late '80s early '90s including singer Michael Kiske culminating in the tragic suicide of ex-drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg.
They've had their ups and downs ever since with a resurgence of success in recent years and with Hansen and Kiske agreeing to rejoin the band to go on tour in 2017. 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.The following year they released their eponymous debut LP 'Kingdom Come'. It went platinum and received a lot of airplay on US radio as well MTV. They opened for the North American Monsters of Rock Tour 1988 headlined by Van Halen.
However like the 80's music of artists such as Whitesnake, The Cult and Billy Squier the band was criticized for copying the style of Led Zeppelin in songs like 'Get it On' leading the Germans to be nicknamed 'Kingdom Clones'
In 1989 their next album 'In Your Face' sold almost half a million records but surprisingly the group broke up soon after for personal reasons. However, they quickly returned with a new line up and released 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'.
This thrash band from Essen was founded in 1982.
Originally named Tyrant, they soon after changed the name.
Along with Destruction and Sodom, Kreator was at the forefront of the German scene.
Their first album was 'Endless Pain' followed by 'Pleasure To Kill' in 1986. But it was their 4th album 'Extreme Aggression' which saw them break through and enjoy a hit record throughout Europe in 1989.
The early 1990s they began experimenting with Death Metal and Industrial sounds 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 in March 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
Legendary rock goddess born in Düsseldorf in 1964. Doro started off 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 with W.A.S.P, Judas Priest and Dio in Europe. In the USA 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 considered a respected veteran of old school Heavy Rock, Doro has continued 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 debut album 'Primal Fear' came next year.
This was followed by tours with Running Wild and Hammerfall.
In 2003 the band traveled through North America on the "Metal Gods" tour with the likes of Rob Halford and Testament and a few other bands.
Their lyrics involve sci-fi and fantasy but some claim their words are metaphors for statements on politics and society. In 2006, they dropped Nuclear Blast Records and signed with Frontiers Records.
It seemed to work since their best success so far came in 2012 with the album 'Unbreakable'. To find out more check out 'Armageddon', 'King for a Day', 'Angels of Mercy', 'When Death Comes Knocking' and 'The End is Near'.
Started in 1984 by Peter Wagner in Herne. Originally called Avenger they changed their name 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 were signing up with Noise Records in 1985, then their 1992 album "Trapped" which gave them a breakthrough worldwide.
After a change of record label, they had even more success with the album 'Black in Mind' released in 1995, followed by a world tour and a raising of their international profile, especially in Europe and Japan. Their next album in 1996. the groundbreaking 'Ligua Mortis', saw a Metal band play with a full symphony orchestra for the first time.
The year 2004 heralded their 20th anniversary with a year of celebrations producing a live CD and DVD. Songs to have a listen are 'The Edge of Darkness', 'Don't Fear the Winter', 'Empty Hollow' and 'Scared to Death'.
Rammstein was formed in 1994 in Berlin. The band's first album 'Herzeleid' came the next year. From this, they quickly gained a live reputation with chart success in Germany. Their second album 'Sehnsucht' brought them to the fore and they were now playing large arenas in Europe.
They have entertaining and theatrical live shows full of fire and pyrotechnic elements which, allied with their pounding Industrial sound and guttural German lyrics, make 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 across the world. After a busy period in the early 2000's they have eased off a little with longer breaks between albums.
But they are still capable of selling out a 2009 Madison Square Gardens show in minutes and headlining festivals such as Sonisphere in 2010 and 2014 as well as 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
Legendary guitarist born in Dusseldorf in 1954. Then, still in his teens, he joined the burgeoning Scorpions line-up in 1973. However, he left 5 years later and formed his own band named Electric Sun.
They released 3 albums before Roth decided to go solo in the mid-1980's and from 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 a fusion of blues-based rock to a classical influence and he has even composed 4 symphonies and 2 concertos. Sometimes he has 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 him play on 'Sky Overture', 'Cry of the Night', 'Aqua Vitae' and 'Bridge to Heaven' among many others including his interpretations of classics by the likes of Hendrix and Cream.
18. Running Wild
This band formed in 1976 in Hamburg and they were originally called Granite Hearts.
Then in 1979 came the change to Running Wild named 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 dealing with historical events.
Running Wild really only existed part-time after 2009 and they eventually broke up in 2011. The band split up after performing at the Wacken Festival but reformed only a year later.
During all the times of instability and personnel changes, Rolf has been the only member remaining from the beginning and is the main creative force of the band. He also had another group, a successful side-project called Giant-X started in 2013. Best songs from Running Wild include 'Conquistadores', 'Blazon Stone', 'Riding the Storm', 'The Privateer', 'Revolution' and 'The Brotherhood'.
19. The Scorpions
The Scorpions were formed in 1965 in Hanover by Rudolf Schenker. In 1970 Schenker's younger brother Michael and vocalist Klaus Meine joined the band. Three years later, after Michael's departure, Uli Roth took over lead guitar but left in 1978 and was replaced by Matthias Jabs
They have sold over 100 million records in total and have played live to massive audiences. The post-Cold War anthem 'Wind of Change' is one of the best-selling singles in the world with over 14 million copies sold.
The Scorpions have received three World Music Awards, a star on the Hollywood Rock wall and a permanent presence in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
With too many great songs to mention, sample just some of their selection from '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'.
From Gelsenkirken, this band was formed in 1981. Sodom was one of the foremost pioneers of Germany thrash metal. They were also one of the prime influences on the Norwegian Black Metal scene to emerge in the 1990s.
The first album 'Obsessed By Cruelty' eventually arrived in 1986. Their early lyrics sang about themes of Satanism and the occult but then they developed 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 line-up changes with lead man Tom Angelripper the only original member. But they are still going strong and tearing up the stages of the world playing tracks like 'City of God', 'Agent Orange', 'Remember the Fallen', 'The Saw is the Law' and 'Magic Dragon'.
As the commercials always said 'All these and many, many more available now' to 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 little sample fest of 20 of the best around.
There are more out there in the electric ether just waiting for that download.
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