The 7” single has a long history in the heavy metal world, and its importance as a format continues in the underground to this day. One of the best ways to lose money is to get into old NWOBHM singles, and many of the most expensive obscurities out there are highly limited 7”s that have far more fans than there are copies. Though the practice made its way to extreme metal (and particularly death metal, with many classic 7”s coming out across a variety of scenes and record labels in the early ‘90s) the format has endured as a special way for a classic heavy metal band to both make a statement and, when the band is special enough, as a showcase of force on a debut.

Rising vinyl pressing plant costs, an increasingly divided fanbase with more choices than ever on how to spend money, and the same troubles with falling record sales that have blighted the entire music industry have cut into the commercial viability of the storied format. For an independent band or record label, 7”s are perhaps the worst return on investment that money can buy from any of the standard formats you can put music on (aside maybe from a 10”, which I won’t get into). Even a few years ago when I played on my first 7” I was getting told by labels that they’re no longer financially viable as anything other than a promotional release to support a later album. Now, they’re even more expensive, and a run can cost nearly what an equivalent pressing of 12”s would—but they can only be sold for a fraction of the amount without fans rioting.

Despite the cost, diehard heavy metal warriors continue to release new additions to the storied legacy of the heavy metal 7” single, and the format enjoys a special significance with fans and musicians. Today, I will be sharing some of my favorites from the last few years in no particular order. Shoutout as well to Sölicitör, whose All Debts on Death 7” was only excluded because I already wrote about it in a standalone article earlier this year.


Road Warrior / GravebreakerDeath Promise / Death in Hells on Wheels (Gates of Hell Records, 2020)

Not as strictly classic for heavy metal bands as a standalone 7” but no less cool for it is the 7” split, and this one between Australian killers Road Warrior and Swedish maniacs Gravebreaker combines two of the best and most underrated bands on the venerable Gates of Hell Records roster to make for a perfect eight and a half minutes of underground steel. Continuing in the tradition of their studio albums Road Warrior’s side is a strange and tough mid-paced banger that recalls greats like Jag Panzer and Griffin as told by obstinate Aussies; their sound is difficult to narrow down at the end of the day because it’s so unique to Road Warrior, whose music genuinely lives up to their name at all times and across all of their releases.

The Gravebreaker tune is shorter but no less killer and is probably my favorite individual song from all of 2020, showcasing the power of the format as a way for a band to hone in all of their energy into a tiny amount of playing time to meet the time constraints of the medium. Fast, unbelievably catchy and memorable, and anthemic, Gravebreaker’s anti-corporate message comes across with all the grit and sleaze of any ‘80s action hero and with the oozing charisma to sell anything as long as they don’t stop playing. More than worth your time.


Heavy SentenceProtector / Darkest Hour (Night Rhythms Recordings, 2017)

When I was visiting Oakland in 2017 for a trip to that year’s iteration of California Deathfest I made a stop at Nuclear War Now’s new store and bought this blind as a recommendation from a buddy that was working there. The art sold me in a second- never had I seen an aesthetic on a new release that so perfectly captured the energy of a low-budget old 7”, and I’m still not sure I’ve seen anything else that really matches just how perfect the look of this single is.

Thankfully when I got home and tossed it on, the music matched the art, and five years later this remains a favorite in modern heavy metal short-lengths; punchy and nasty, Heavy Sentence are an amazing callback to the nascent heavy metal scene their country had in the early ‘80s and on this short-player channel the spirit of bands like Tank and Motörhead better than any other Brit has in recent memory. Ferocious and punchy rhythms bounce in and out of great melodic leadwork and a six-packs-a-day gritty singing voice drives home how Lemmy’s legacy lives on even now. Not much like this out there right now, and as much as the album that Heavy Sentence put out a few years later is also cool (see here for an interview with the band and writeup about said album that I did last year), I don’t think they were able to top this. It’s a flash in the pan that hits all the harder for it.


PulverPulver (Gates of Hell Records, 2018)

Though the aforementioned Heavy Sentence won my award for the most perfect ‘80s aesthetic for a modern heavy metal 7”, Pulver’s art is perhaps the best across all of these and made for an instant blind buy just based on how cool that was alone. Like Heavy Sentence, influence from Motörhead-style ‘80s heavy metal is a major factor in Pulver’s music, right down to the rougher vocals. Where they differ is the way the influence is factored in. Pulver singer Dave Fröhlich has an intentionally more gravelly voice but Dave takes a much more melodic approach to it; there’s a lot of grit there, but the vocal lines are sultry, luring instead of pummeling. The music itself leans heavily into the earlier side of metal, with the B-side consisting of a smooth lead-laden instrumental and the coolest Scorpions style epic this side of the ‘80s, channeling the same general vibes that bands like Manilla Road, Candlemass, and Manowar would popularize but coming from an entirely different direction. The end result is deeply impressive, and closer “Twilight Magic” is for my money one of the absolute finest singles to come from the modern scene. Though I don’t hold their debut album from the next year in the same regard, Pulver is a perfect statement of entry and deserves all the accolades that some significantly-worse bands have gotten instead.


DraculaBlack Wings Over Transylvania (Heavy Chains Records, 2014)

Will Fried is Australia’s modern tzar of heavy metal. He plays in half the best bands (perhaps most notably The Wizar’d and Tarot), runs Heavy Chains Records, plays every instrument, sings, and somehow manages to do it all better than just about everyone else. Though a lot of his best material is in the general spectrum of fuzzy rock and doom metal, Dracula stands out as perhaps the best Mercyful Fate tribute in the modern scene. Vocalist Count Hawlok’s impression of King Diamond is close enough that a listener could be forgiven for thinking they somehow got him on the tracks, and though he doesn’t quite match that power and charisma in the end, he gets a hell of a lot closer than almost anyone else ever has. On the instrumental side of things Will’s guitarwork is powerfully reminiscent of the best axeman that King Diamond had but still retains his own style both rhythmically and in particularly in his leadwork; tribute though this is, it’s not a clone, and the killer crunch of the guitars and melodic soloing help it to retain its own identity.

The frenetic time-changing and instrumental weirdness that are the classic hallmarks of albums like Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath are largely not here (though there’s a tiny bit of it to Dracula, make no mistake!) and instead, the songs focus on flowing smoothly and creating a narrative and atmosphere that slays harder than absolutely anyone else to follow in the King’s footsteps quite this closely. Though it’s been closer to ten years now than to five since the release of this single I still hold out hope that Will, Count Hawlok, and drummer Scott Shadows bring this one back someday.


Borrowed TimeFog in the Valley (Dying Victims Productions, 2011)

The oldest release on this article. I almost left this one out but the impact it made on me was too big to go without discussion. This was the first modern heavy metal band I heard that actually sounded like a lost demo from the ‘80s with their debut Demo 2010 (and still remains one of the only ones to have done it that convincingly), and this special single is no less full of energy and magic. There’s a looseness to all of the Borrowed Time material that sounds wonderfully organic in a world of click tracks, drums snapped to a grid, and the charming and clearly hand-painted cover completes the package. Tight rock song structures and a fierce sense of musicianship behind the rough and ready attitude of the band screams of a fierce hunger for a bygone age of rock and metal, and an ethereally passionate vocal performance from JP Abboud (then using pseudonym J. Priest, which was less fitting at the time than it is in his current band Traveler) brings enough charisma to win over even the most skeptical regressive. Borrowed Time for a while captured the imagination of the heavy metal world, and this 7” was championed by everyone from Fenriz to the guy at your local record store with bad BO and a skullet that hates anything else made after 1985. As another point of interest, the band’s cover of “Necropolis” on their first demo remains possibly the only Manilla Road cover that I’ve heard another heavy metal do that I actually liked. Highly recommended all around- both the demo and 7” were compiled by various labels into a release titled “Arcane Metal Arts” that is a must have for all fans of this style of music.


LuziferBlack Knight (High Roller Records, 2018)

When I interviewed Luzifer earlier this year, Stefan (vocals, guitars, drums) said that if they’d written their debut album earlier it would have “sounded much more like Mercyful Fate,” and this 7” from an earlier period in the band’s history certainly reflects that. Unlike other article favorite Dracula, this is not at all something that could be genuinely called a tribute or worship to the King’s music, but the comparison makes sense. Luzifer’s wildly successful debut Iron Shackles has the same core of rollicking fun to it that Black Knight does, but the 7” is somewhat more serious in tone, somewhat less anthemic, and perhaps a bit more sharp musically. In a turnaround from some of the other releases mentioned here I would say that the album is a real step forward from the pre-album material, but the combination of spooky, King Diamond-ish fun alongside some extra riffs that actually sound a bit more in that vein is a great duo and it’s with good reason that Luzifer garnered significant attention in the heavy metal underground prior to even their first album. This is also where the signature vocal style of the band took firmer root, becoming the predominant approach over a more shaky, uneven, and sometimes bad falsetto-laden approach on their first release, Rise.


HerzelUnis dans la gloire (Messe Noire Productions, 2020)

Is it cheating to include a demo that didn’t come out on 7” til five years after the original cassette? I say fuck no it isn’t, not when the music is as good as this is and when the heat was such that the original 7” sold out instantly even after all that time and is right now awaiting a promised repress. Even the original tape run was a startling large 300 copies and that’s also long gone and with good reason; a perfect combination of gorgeous French sounds and hard-hitting epic metal, Unis Dans la Gloire is the answer to “what if Warlord was French, and also really into Manilla Road?” Though the album that came after this (covered here with an interview) leans far more into folk and beautiful individualism, Herzel at this point was still finding their sound and the result is a lot more aggression, bigger riffs, and dynamic than the album was.

As much as I prefer the end result on the album, this 7” is still incredibly special, and perhaps even more so for the contrast of moods that comes with a close familiarity with their later work; hearing what has to me become a signature Herzel sound for very French mystical leadwork married to massive rhythms that would fit on the burliest ‘80s Manowar tracks is something that, prior to 2015, I did not know I needed in my life. Keep an eye out for the repress that Messe Noire has coming, because once it’s gone this will be completely unobtainable, as is often the case with the best metal has to offer.


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