10 brilliant but obscure late 80s and early 90s hard rock bands that everyone should know about

Segments of 10 cult hard rock albums
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Quality hard rock never goes out of fashion, as Vega can vouch. The British band have spent the last 14 years putting a modern spin on the kind of late 80s/early 90s hard rock that once ruled the airwaves (and will again, mark our words). Their upcoming eighth studio album, Battlelines, continues the hot streak that has recruited fans such as Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott to their cause.

Vega’s singer Nick Workman certainly knows his hard rock inside out – his record collection goes way deeper than your Def Leppards and Bon Jovis. In fact, he’s such a connoisseur of the late 80s and early 90s scene that when we wanted someone to talk to us about 10 brilliant bands who should have been way bigger than they are, he was the first person we called. From funk-o-metal carpet rides to long-lost albums by future pop production titans, these are 10 late 80s and early 90s hard rock bands that everyone should know about.

Metal Hammer line break


Nick Workman: “Ray Gillen – what a singer and what a loss. Teaming up with former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Jake E Lee should have been a match made in heaven. Jagger/Richards. Tyler/Perry, Bon Jovi/Sambora… we should have had Gillen/Lee as well.

“When I saw the video for their single Dreams In The Dark on late night rock show Raw Power, I was sold. Ray’s vocals did everything I wanted them to do and everything I wanted to be able to do as a wannabe singer. The riff at the start of High Wire, the opening track on their self-titled debut album, was filthy. It ripped your face off and set the scene for the next forty minutes. There are weak songs on the debut album, though I don’t think that can be said for the following albums.

"They had the songs, the look, the talent but I guess they also had their demons too, which ultimately was their downfall. If you haven’t heard the debut then go and get it. You won’t find it on streaming service though – I believe they pissed their record label off so much that their first two albums are buried in a vault and are unlikely to see the light of day.”

Dan Reed Network

Nick:Dan Reed Network should have been – and should still be – massive. I saw them support Bon Jovi on the New Jersey tour and after the show, they were the band I was going nuts over on the way home, not Bon Jovi. Not only did they have the songs, but they charisma in spades.

“Their music has such a cool swagger to it. They got lumped into the funk rock scene but they were so much more than that. Dan’s lyrics were at times poetry, which he delivered with pure passion, and the band behind him were solid as a rock.

“Their self-titled debut album has a cool 80s sound to it that would be deemed ‘current’ if it was released today, the second album, Slam, had a certifiable classic in the single Rainbow Child (which should have been their moment to explode), and the third album, The Heat, rocked the hardest with songs such as Baby Now I and the title track. That last album came out just as the grunge scene started, so the timing sucked for them.

Electric Boys

Nick: “Who doesn’t love the intro riff to their song All Lips ’N’ Hips? I got it on a 12-inch single when it came out and was blown away. Again, they got branded ‘funk’ – having an album called Funk-O-Metal Carpet Ride was probably to blame, but it was more groovy than funky. The US version of the album featured five tracks produced by Bob Rock, and it’s fair to say that his influence is a positive one. 

"The follow up was the fantastically titled Groovus Maximus which carried on the quality of the first album and delivered tunes like the Beatles-esque Mary In The Mystery World and the Bon Jovi-ish ballad Dying To Be Loved. Sweden has a habit of producing amazing bands and I guess they can’t all make it to the stadiums, but this is one band that should have.”

Shotgun Messiah

Nick: “Another brilliant Swedish band. Shotgun Messiah should have taken over the world. They started out as Kingpin, but then changed their name and released a sophomore album called Second Coming, which I still play frequently to this day.

“Their singer, Tim Skold, has a Marmite voice, but you can’t argue with the songs: Heartbreak Blvd, Sex Drugs Rock’n’Roll and Ride The Storm are bangers. The guitarist, Harry Cody, was a shredder who should have been up there with the likes of Vai and Satriani, but what set them apart for me was the diversity of the songs. They had the fast rockers and the ballads, but they also had mid-tempo rockers that packed a punch. I Want More is a prime example of Skold using his voices strengths and not over singing. Low down and dirty would sum him up.

“They went industrial on their third album, Violent New Breed. They still had the songs, and it was recognizable as Shotgun Messiah, but I was a little disappointed as I wanted more of the same. This is a problem all bands have: stick to a sound and you are playing safe, be diverse and alienate your fanbase. It’s a no-win situation.

Heavy Bones

Nick: “Their singer Joel Ellis was originally in a band called Cats in Boots. I loved Cat In Boots too, but Heavy Bones just edged them out with more consistent songs. Frankie Banali smashed the shit out of the drums while Gary Hoey knocked out some cracking riffs on guitars.

“But for me, it was all about Joel Ellis and his voice. He had a massive range and his use of falsetto and him to take any song to stratospheric heights without showing off and still maintaining the emotion. He wasn’t afraid to sing low either, which increased the impact when he let the big notes fly. Songs like Dead End St and Turn It On would have been massive in the hands of Mötley Crüe or Damn Yankees. Cats In Boots and Heavy Bones both robbed us by only having one album each!”

Honeymoon Suite

Nick: “The first I heard of this Canadian band was when I saw that they were supporting Status Quo. I instantly decided I wasn’t going to like them because I thought it was a shit name for a band. I managed to go another 25 years before giving them a listen and it turns out they’re a fantastic band. Massive choruses, feelgood anthems and songs that could grace any Rocky training montage - they even had the title song on the first Lethal Weapon movie! 

"Songs like Wounded and Feel It Again would have been massive singles for any of the big bands of the 80’s – I’m sure they served Honeymoon Suite well, but they really should have sent them to the big leagues.”

Stevie Salas

Nick: “Stevie Salas was a session player the likes of Rod Stewart before he formed an eponymous trio and put out an album called Colorcode. There were definitely funk elements to what he was doing, but it really did rock – and it was helped along by a kick drum that was so loud Tommy Lee would be envious. Indian Chief was Hendrix for the early 90s, Caught in the Middle was what Aerosmith should have been doing instead of re-writing the same ballad over again and The Harder They Come is absolutely classic - it should appear and every one of those Father’s Day ‘Dad Rocks’ compilations that you get in garages.

“I could never understand how a band like the Red Hot Chili Peppers could be huge and Stevie Salas couldn’t get close – he’s a megastar in Japan, but he should have been famous all over the world. It wasn’t until years later that I found out he played the ‘excellent!’ shreddy guitar parts in Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

It’s Alive

Nick: “Yet another band from Sweden. They were fronted by Max Martin, who went on to write and produce massive singles for Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and more, and they were the perfect blend of pop and rock – the melodies were sublime and the musicianship equally so.

“Like so many other bands, they should have been massive – Pretend I’m God is a monster song and rightfully was a single. When The Backstreet Boys first hit the scene, I remember a lot of people saying that they would be great with some guitars. Well, Max Martin wrote their songs and It’s Alive have all the same vocal arrangements and harmonies. If The Backstreet Boys had turned up the guitars, they probably would have had the same success as It’s Alive… not much! Check out the song Metalapolis for you will see what I mean.”

Killer Dwarfs

Nick: “Another band that I deemed to be shit before I’d heard their music because of their name. I mean, Killer Dwarfs doesn’t scream ‘cool’ or ‘sexy’, does it? Come on, it was the 80s…

“I heard about them because they supported Iron Maiden on the Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son tour. I didn’t go to the show, which is my loss – had I gone, I would have heard some brilliantly played, brilliantly sung rock songs. Their 1990 album Dirty Weapons is cracking, and its title track is a hidden gem – musically it had hints of Queensryche, Ozzy Osbourne, Dokken and my favourite band, Def Leppard (early Leppard, but Leppard nonetheless). What’s not to like?”


Nick: “The first I heard of this band was when I got their debut single I’m a Believer, although I actually preferred the B-side, The Big Pitch, at the time. Their singer and guitarist Dann Huff was a renowned session player before Giant, and he went on to be one of the top producers in country music. His guitar playing is so on the money and his solos full of emotion and bite. 

"But his voice! Sure, he can sing high, but it’s the emotion and dynamics he uses that makes it for me. The single I’ll See You In My Dreams should have taken them to top of any chart – I think it would have, had it been in a big 80s action movie. Their second album Time To Burn came out in 1992 and suffered because of the ‘g’ word, like most bands of the genre.”

Vega’s new album, Battlelines, is out on September 8 via Frontiers