The 10 greatest obscure metal bands from the 1970s who should have been huge

Highway Robbery
Highway Robbery

The 1970s was when rock grew up. Bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult bestrode the globe like musical colossi, selling records my the million, elevating popular music to another level, and setting the template for anyone who subsequently picked up a guitar or screamed into a hairbrush in front of a mirror.

But there were plenty of bands who never had the impact they deserved, who never got to travel by private jet or soundcheck in a stadium. Here are ten great bands who missed out.

Highway Robbery

From San Francisco, this trio only released one album, 1972’s For Love Or Money, but it still stands as a startling bridge between the heavy psychedelia of the late 60s and the more earthy power that streaked through the early 70s. It certainly nodded towards the Black Sabbath end of the spectrum, but had its own charm and niche.

Michael Stevens was a considerably gifted guitarist, and you can hear shades of what Ronnie Montrose would go on to do a couple of years later on the debut Montose album. And drummer Don Francisco was blessed with a voice that echoed Ian Gillan. The band split up after being dropped by RCA .

Third World War

This early 70s British band are regarded by some as the first to combine the skills of proto metal with the aggression of punk. Their two albums, 1971’s self-titled debut and 72’s Third World War II, bristled with agitating left wing lyricism and brutally exposed riffs. The core of the band were songwriters Terry Stamp (vocals/rhythm guitar) and Jim Avery (bass).

The band fell apart while recording the second album, as it became obvious their musical and philosophical aspirations were not going to give them sustainable commercial impact. But listening to the records now, it’s clear they were ahead of the game.

Granicus

From Cleveland, Ohio, this band put out one album. Self-titled, it was issued in 1973, before the band faded away. However, it is now rightly regarded as a landmark album, because while it definitely had a lot of influences from the progressive and psychedelic worlds of the previous decade, there was definitely a huge step forward, with a style that would become the blueprint for American hard rock later on the 70s.

You can hear the edgy energy on Bad Talk and Cleveland Ohio. But lack of impact led to them splitting up. A second album, Thieves, Liars And Traitors, came out in 2010, culled from recordings made in 1974, and the band have since reunited.

P2O5

A German band who combine psychedelia and heaviness with a confident swagger. Formed in 1970, and taking their name from the chemical formula for phosphorous pentoxide, the four had a progressive bent, plus mystical tendencies. But you can also hear elements of what would later develop into both the doom and stoner genres. In that sense, they were certainly ahead of their time. Their standout album was the 1978 debut Vivat Progessio – Pereat Mundus, where all the strands that make up the P2O5 sound coalesce into a heavy mould, with Wolfgang Berkhard’s Hammond Organ sound right at the epicentre.

Ginbae

From Yokohama in Japan (but not to be confused with another band called Yokohama Ginbae!), this lot’s legacy is an astonishing 1976 self-titled, five song album. Released on the Sea Side label, this takes influences from Purple, Sabbath and Lizzy, mixing them together to create a gripping style that dips towards doom, yet also has a strong hard rock structure.

Some of Shirashi’s vocals are reminiscent of Ian Gillan taking on Rob Halford; he can also soar with the aplomb of an oriental Glenn Hughes. And Shinyunsuke Nakamura guitar playing is an overpowering technical blur. This is the band’s sole album, but a real 70s metal masterclass.

McOil

A German band who were formed in Ochsenhausen during 1976, McOil only recorded one album, 1979’s All Our Hopes. The band put out the album themselves, as they were unable to get a deal. There’s certainly an strong element of krautrock in the sound, but it is altogether heavier. Karl Wild’s guitar work was powerful and surging, complementing the neat keyboard refrains from Doris Tischmann. What McOil do well is balance a desire to be progressive against a primitive metallic momentum. The band, albeit with a different line-up, recorded a second album before splitting up, but this remains unreleased.

Phantom’s Divine Comedy

In 1974, this lot released debut album Phantom’s Divine Comedy Part 1, and it sparked rumours that Jim Morrison was actually fronting a mysterious new band. Yes, the Lizard King had officially died three years earlier, but there were some who refused to believed this, and so the story spread. The band’s label, Capitol, capitalised on this, until there was a threat of legal action. At which point the album and band disappeared. A shame, because while you can hear The Doors inference, there’s some fine mid 70s metal wig out moments. At times, it sounds like Blue Cheer meets Budgie.

Survivor

No, not the Eye Of The Tiger lot. This band came from Louisiana, and sounded like a cross between UFO and Thin Lizzy, with daubs of doom. And vocalist Brian Clark had some of those Rob Halford chops. They only released one album, 1979’s All Your Pretty Moves, but this is a gem. There are guitar harmonies here which would grace a Lizzy record, while there are also some hefty nods towards the early Rainbow years. And Delicate Adversary could be Molly Hatchet gone insane. Some of this band went on to form Christian metallers Philadelphia, but if you love The Godz, you’ll enjoy this.

Night Sun

A German band who were very much on the heavier end of the prog metal spectrum, Night Sun only got to make a single album, 1972’s Mournin’. You can hear the threads of so many different styles here, such as thrash, doom and stoner, and Night Sun were definitely pioneers. The combination of Walter Girchgessner’s guitar pyrotechnics and Knut Rossler’s organ was stylish, capable of veering from outright mania through pomp and sophisticated progression.

Night Sun, though, never achieved much traction with this album, and they split up the following year. But time has given Mournin’ a welcome cachet. It’s a musical feast.

Zarpo

They have a name that sounds like a forgotten Marx brother, but this is a long running Spanish band. They sing in their native tongue only, which might explain why Zarpo have remained hidden in the shadows since their inception in 1977. But while only those fluent in Spanish will understand what vocalist Vincent Feijóo is on about, there’s no doubting the passion and power of the music. Heavily influenced by Sabbath and Priest, they have released more than a dozen records in their career. The best of these is the 1978 debut Los Cuatro Jinetes Del Apocalpsis.