Did Accept invent speed metal with “Fast as a Shark” on Restless and Wild?

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Wolf Hoffmann asserts that Accept wrote the first speed metal song ever with “Fast as a Shark” from Restless and Wild way back in 1982. While the debate rages across the internet, now the equivalent of 1980s daytime television, the question can be answered by looking to what speed metal is.

Speed metal — as distinct from thrash a genre popularized by Thrasher magazine devotees and skaters making hardcore/metal crossover such as Dirty Rotten Imbeciles and Cryptic Slaughter — originated in the use of a single technique: the muted strummed downpicked power chord. This technique combined the repetitive downpicking of punk with palm muting, previously used only to emphasize specific notes. Much of its appeal came from the changes in amplification and production since the previous decade which allowed louder music to exist. Much like the 1980s itself, the muted strum conveyed a sound of clashing absolutes and decreased the amount of harmony heard in each chord, making the music more purely percussive like techno and early industrial. Even more, it gained the volume punks had always aspired to with its explosive and uncompromising sound. In the process, it inspired more use of accidentals leading to more chromatic fills, which in the next generation with death metal became a form of riffs themselves, where speed metal relied more on the NWOBHM song form and harmony.

Generally regarded as starting in 1983 with Metallica Kill ‘Em All, speed metal presented a radically new sound which had precursors in extreme (for the time) bands like Motorhead, Judas Priest, Blitzkrieg, Tank and Satan. However, no bands had fully adopted the new technique as the basis of their composition until the early cluster of Metallica, Exodus, Mercyful Fate, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax and Megadeth. During the 1980s these bands were the most extreme metal that most people could find in their local record stores, which were how most people got music back then, with the exception of Slayer which was a speed/death hybrid and Venom which was a punk-influenced form of NWOBHM. Accept does not measure up to this standard on the basis of technique, since its song fits within older heavy metal format and does not use the muted strum.

This statement does not decrease the importance of Accept in the creation of speed metal. A long line of innovations occurred leading to speed metal, starting with the incredibly rough sound of Motorhead in 1976 but aided by progressive bands like King Crimson and Greenslade as well as a chain of punk acts who pushed the envelope such as Discharge, The Exploited, Amebix and the Cro-Mags. Below you can hear “Fast as a Shark” and see this heritage for yourself, contrasted with the archetypal speed metal song, “Creeping Death” from the second Metallica work Ride the Lightning and Blitzkrieg’s self-titled track from their 1981 EP Buried and Alive.

Letters: Why isn’t Metallica “thrash metal”?

metallica-kill_em_allA reader writes with a few questions:

Why is Metallica’s debut classified in your website as Speed Metal and not Thrash Metal? What defines Thrash Metal and why are Metallica and Kreator placed under Speed Metal? The second question really being what defines Speed Metal?

What is speed metal? Speed metal is the music formed of the hybrid of NWOBHM and punk music. NWOBHM itself was a fusion of Black Sabbath and the “metal-like” hard rock genres of the time, including some progressive rock, given an underground and DIY outlook. The definitive speed metal album is the first Metallica work, but we could also look to Overkill, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Megadeth, Testament and Prong.

What is thrash metal? A marketing term for “speed metal.” Some argue that it’s a separate genre, namely speed metal with “broken beats” or d-beats, but the fact of the matter is that the d-beat-influenced drumming was already part of speed metal. Musically, anything regarded as “thrash metal” is speed metal. Hence use of that term instead.

Now, as to Kreator — why is it speed metal? Kreator is on the line between speed metal and death metal but ultimately has more in common with later speed metal like Destruction and Sodom than it does with outright death metal. It was a previous generation to the music that expanded in the late 1980s through early 1990s.

What is thrash? Thrash is a hybrid form of heavy metal and punk music preferred by thrashers, i.e. skaters. This music evolved out of the explosion of punk music at the end of the 1970s and the tendency of bands like Discharge, Amebix, The Exploited, the Cro-Mags and others to take on metal riff-styles, especially as inspired by Slayer and other heavily punk-influenced bands. However, many thrash bands used riff influences from NWOBHM or before, with Black Sabbath being prominent.

The reason we separate speed metal and thrash is that they are different movements. Speed metal is metal that incorporates some aspects of punk; thrash is a metal/punk hybrid that generally uses punk song structures and metal riffs, laying the groundwork for grindcore. There’s also no point in expanding the speed metal franchise into many different sub-types when all are essentially musically identical.