Heavy metal (music)

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Heavy metal (or metal) is a musical genre, often referred to as the progenitor of various metal subgenres (eg. black metal, death metal, etc.). Metal derives directly from blues and rock, even if in some sub-genres there is an evident influence of classical music. Heavy metal is mainly blues-based, using pentatonic scales and a blues-like song structure whilst displaying aggressive, driving rhythms and highly amplified distorted guitars, generally with grandiose lyrics and virtuoso instrumentation. These lyrics sometimes include dark thematic elements, or are based on fantasy themes and Celtic mysticism.

Heavy metal is a development of blues, blues rock, and psychedelic rock. Its origins lie in the hard rock bands that between 1966 and 1975 took blues and rock and created a hybrid with a heavy, guitar-and-drums-centred sound. Heavy metal had its peak popularity in the mid-1980s, during which many of the now existing sub-genres first evolved. Although not as commercially successful as it was then, heavy metal still has a large world-wide following of fans known by terms like 'head-bangers' and 'metal-heads'.


The very phrase 'heavy metal' can be traced back in literature for almost 200 years but an early sign of its modern sense comes in 1964, with William Burroughs' novel Nova Express:

With their diseases and orgasm drugs and their sexless parasite life forms—Heavy Metal People of Uranus wrapped in cool blue mist of vaporized bank notes—And the Insect People of Minraud with metal music

The term here, 'heavy metal', is a metaphor for addictive drugs. Another aspect of these novels is the use of recorded sound to free oneself from a programmed life and the alienation caused by an increasingly mechanical world. This was not, however, the only place around the same time the term is used.

In 1968 three American bands made reference to it: The most obvious reference is Steppenwolf's classic hit 'Born to be Wild' where the lyrics go: 'I like smokin' lightnin', heavy metal thunder', and this catchphrase was apparently meant to describe the sound of a motorcycle's accelerating engine. The term was not applied to the musical style at all. The same situation was seemingly maintained by the music of Blue Cheer whose manager declared that the musicians played their music 'so heavy, they could churn the air into cottage cheese'. However, Iron Butterfly dubbed an album Heavy, and this referred to the intensity of the pummelling organ in the music.

The first documented uses of the phrase to describe a type of rock music are from reviews by critic Mike Saunders. In the 12 November 1970, issue of Rolling Stone, he commented on an album put out the previous year by the British band Humble Pie: 'Safe As Yesterday Is, their first American release, proved that Humble Pie could be boring in lots of different ways. Here they were a noisy, unmelodic, heavy metal-leaden band with the loud and noisy parts beyond doubt. There were a couple of nice songs...and one monumental pile of refuse.' He described the band's latest, self-titled release as 'more of the same 27th-rate heavy metal crap.'[1] In a review of Sir Lord Baltimore's Kingdom Come in the May 1971 Creem, Saunders wrote, 'Sir Lord Baltimore seems to have down pat most all the best heavy metal tricks in the book.'[2] Creem critic Lester Bangs is credited with popularizing the term via his early 1970s essays on bands such as Deep Purple and Black Sabbath.[3] Through the decade, heavy metal was used by certain critics as a virtually automatic put-down. In 1979, lead New York Times popular music critic John Rockwell described what he called 'heavy-metal rock' as 'brutally aggressive music played mostly for minds clouded by drugs,'[4] and, in a different article, as 'a crude exaggeration of rock basics that appeals to white teenagers.'[5]

The stylistic identity of heavy metal was perhaps defined in the latter years of the 1960s but the basal elements were conceived several years before this, thus taking us back to the early 1960s and the so-called British Invasion of rhythm & blues.


Heavy metal developed out of sixties rock and blues when musicians started to exploit the opportunities of the electrically amplified guitar to produce a louder, more discordant sound. The first strains of music which were nearly heavy metal in their aggressiveness were emitted by bands the likes of the Kinks and the Rolling Stones. The Kinks' 'You Really Got Me' (August 1964) or the Rolling Stones' 'Satisfaction' (June 1965) were controversial and abrasive enough for their time, making these two tracks the first proto-metal songs. The Rolling Stones were stigmatised as 'the bad boys of rock 'n' roll' and this caused negative feedback from adults everywhere. Front man in the band, Mick Jagger, presented an explicit, sexually provocative and distinctly narcissistic stage manner, which had never been seen before, and this attitude was deemed offensive by most adults – but the youth loved him as well as the music of the band. The Rolling Stones broke the charts worldwide with the commercial single '(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction', which became a huge hit among the youth due to its rebellious and sexual undertones. Like the Rolling Stones with 'Satisfaction', the Kinks achieved massive airplay with the commercial single hit 'You Really Got Me'. The guitarist in the band, Dave Davies, lacerated the speaker of his amplifier with razor blades, and the distorted signal was channelled through a larger, more powerful amplifier, which resulted in a dense and raucous feel in the basic riff. This hard, rough and aggressive style pre-dated heavy metal by a couple of years. This effect is now readily available using a fuzz-box; a foot-controlled device that allows the guitarist to alternate between distorted fuzz-tone and the normal clear sound. No longer was music only about sound and arrangements but now included awareness about appearance, appeal, image and gimmicks.

In 1966, a similar evolution occurred with Iron Butterfly and their debut album Heavy. The music was characterised by densely sustained and powerful bass keyboards that substituted the rhythm guitar. Later that year, the band released its sophomore album In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, which immediately became the biggest commercial success for Atlantic Records at that time. The Jimi Hendrix Experience became notorious for their extremely personal interpretations of standards from blues, R&B and soul but it was not least their cover 'Hey Joe' which they virtually made their own. Armed with a Fender Stratocaster, Jimi Hendrix not only broke the standards of common guitar instrumentation but also displayed his skills on an advanced system of twisted sounds from tremolo, vibrato, the fuzz-box and wah-wah pedal that developed into vigorous, improvised music while producing a dazzling display of guitar pyrotechnics and regular stage antics; playing with his tongue and teeth, playing behind his head, and grinding the neck of the guitar against the mike stand and amplifier. Likewise, drummer Mitch Mitchell developed his skills, using a two-piece bass drum pedal, which enabled him to keep his heel on the bass plate and achieve quick-fire and repeated impacts by merely flexing the ankle. At the same time, three remarkable and outstanding personalities from the British R&B scene met in a power trio dubbed Cream. This act was immediately referred to as a super group by the press. Eric Clapton was a former musician in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and the Yardbirds; the jazz-trained bass player Jack Bruce had displayed his skills with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers before joining Manfred Mann while Ginger Baker had been a percussionist with the Graham Bond Organisation. These three musicians strove for technical excellence and a mastery over their instrument. In 1967, Cream achieved huge success with their evolutionary development of R&B; the threesome experimented at a fusion of jazz and R&B on the record Fresh Cream. Clapton was also one of the first white musicians who performed technical and lengthy, improvised solos and thematic riffs that lasted several minutes.

At the ultimate peak of the British Blues Invasion, acts such as the Move, Pink Floyd and the Yardbirds coined a musical and colourful alternative to R&B, which was dubbed psychedelic rock or psychedelia. First and foremost, this new style originated as a result of a general desire of expressing the impact of mind-expanding substances through music but also due to the fact that the musicians felt the urge to push the envelope of contemporary music thus turning to inspiration from Eastern music and improvised, free-form jazz with electronically altered instruments and voices within the recording studio. Traditional blues with its short chorus and verse patterns developed into blurred, sonic structures with swirling layers of fuzz-toned guitars and chanting vocals. Likewise, this development affected the lyrics that now focused on deeper social and psychological experiences in everyday life, religious themes, spirituality or even surreal euphoria caused from the use of drugs; the psychedelic experience. The audience now sat quietly analysing the music instead of dancing on their seats; bands and audiences became more critical of each other, and the music was now widely accepted as an art form. The message of the lyrics and musical dexterity of the band obtained paramount importance.

American developments

American garage bands were being greatly influenced by the success of British psychedelic bands during this period. San Francisco’s Blue Cheer prominently announced their arrival with Vincebus Eruptum that found its roots in blues and rock but the musical flow was driven by a high-flown, over-amplified volume, feedback from the instruments and a total lack of subtlety. Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, the Amboy Dukes, whose ace was main composer and lead-guitarist Ted Nugent, gained immediate attention on behalf of an eponymous debut. The music was focused on pseudo-psychedelic hard rock but emphasised advanced and flamboyant guitar solos with due references to Jimi Hendrix. New York's Vanilla Fudge began combining elements from rock 'n' roll, Motown, soul, R&B, classical and pop of the 1960s but the most important trademark was however that the four musicians presented bombastic, high-speed arrangements of other artists' compositions with a great deal of success. Vanilla Fudge's drummer, Carmine Appice, soon gained recognition as a dynamic musician who was keen on developing his skills on his instrument with due references to Cream's Ginger Baker and Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Appice actually increased the energy on the double bass drums, his battery of snares, hi-hats and toms. Likewise, amplifiers were becoming larger and more powerful with an ever-increasing number of effects; this facilitated the controlled distortion of the instrument sound.

Hard rock evolves

Within short notice, some of the guitarists started to drill their dexterity and thus turned more dynamic in their backdraft of their riffs, which evolved into pulsating hard rock with an equal lack of swing priority in the beats while the technical guitar solos were prioritised. Taking the ground breaking experiments of Vanilla Fudge as a cue, British act Deep Purple debuted with the album Shades of Deep Purple. Front man Rod Evans relied on inspiration from the crooner Tom Jones whereas guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, former the Artwoods organist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice formed the instrumental/compositional core of the band. Blackmore was immensely inspired by classical music as he used the traditional toolbox of metal song writing albeit with a twist as all of it takes place in a structure that was heavily influenced by baroque music. The chord progressions, arpeggios, broken chords and speedy scale runs of neo-classical metal were borrowed for the most part from Johann Sebastian Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Antonio Vivaldi and Niccolo Paganini.

Free introduced an eponymous debut, which took the conventional blues to new dimensions as six-stringer Paul Kossoff cultivated hard riffs rather than moody blues whereas front man Paul Rodgers shone with a spellbinding soul in his voice. Likewise, Jethro Tull began drafting hard rock with a constant eye on R&B on their debut This Was but internal disputes led to the departure of guitarist Mick Abrahams, who subsequently purveyed traditional R&B in other acts. This new development was much more evident when former Yardbirds guitarist Jeff Beck broke radically with traditional R&B with his Jeff Beck Group to become renowned for his aggressively dynamic high-speed screeching, sustained notes, voluminous feedback and distortion. In Ireland, vocalist Phil Lynott, guitarist Gary Moore and drummer Brian Downey yearned for a record deal for their unit Skid Row, which seemingly nourished the same stylistic ideas. In the United Kingdom, Spooky Tooth debuted with It's All about, which showed how traditional R&B and progressive rock could be fused. The London-based Yes began creating an unheard synthesis of blues, jazz and progressive rock on their eponymous debut, which attracted only little attention. Dominating the music were guitarist Peter Banks and drummer Bill Bruford – and not least their preferences for experimental jazz. Lurking in the background was vocalist Jon Anderson, who provided the music with a high-pitched, sophisticated input and incomprehensible lyrics while four stringer Chris Squire allowed his bass guitar to be more than just a generic component of the rhythm section.

Heavy metal arrives

In the latter years of the 1960s, interest in occult and magic had been revived by the large number of youngsters seeking an alternative to established Christianity and a contemporary distaste for complete nihilism. But rather than turning to Eastern philosophy and spirituality, Buddhism or Hinduism, they were drawn by a fascination of the supernatural. Books such as J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings became big sellers and Aleister Crowley's Thelema sparked by the avant-garde film Scorpio Rising (1963) by director Kenneth Anger, the novel The Devils Rides Out (1968) by Terence Fisher, and the works of playwright Dennis Wheatley.

Four musicians from the industrial town of Birmingham founded Black Sabbath that had earlier rendered a repertoire consisting of jazz and R&B, performing under names such as Polka Tulk Blues Band, Earth Blues Company and Earth. Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler had become increasingly interested in the famous playwright Dennis Wheatley and his novels on black magic, which inspired him to write lyrics drenched in occult symbolism, witchcraft and occultism and hence the image of the band turned to the same concept. In 1970, Black Sabbath produced the first notes from their eponymous debut, which provided an unheard experience of aggressive sound scapes. Following an accident, the tip of Tony Iommi's finger had been cut off and replaced with a piece of metal, which created a strident, steel hard sound upon friction with the strings on his instrument. Geezer Butler's bass guitar emanated a heavy, deep expression, Ozzy Osbourne introduced a monotonous, drawling wail and Ward pounded feverishly on his double bass drums. Though taking the cue from both rhythm & blues as well as hard rock, their modal and compact music opened up for a clash with the conventions as it lingered on an atmosphere devoid of joy or happiness. This effort gained immediate success in the UK though the established radio stations refused to give airplay to the music. Later that year, Black Sabbath introduced the sophomore effort Paranoid that was the archetypal heavy metal release providing the audience with such classics as 'Iron Man', 'Paranoid', 'War Pigs', 'Hand of Doom' and 'Planet Caravan'.

London's Uriah Heep debuted with Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble, which was characterised by David Byron's high-pitched falsetto whine, Ken Henley's organ harmonies, Mick Box's heavy riffs on the guitar and the high-flown choirs unified in brash, non-sophisticated hard rock. The band gained immediate success despite immense negative response from the press, and this was not least due to the single 'Gyps' that has become a classic since then. Humble Pie was the newest supergroup to emerge from the UK consisting of former Small Faces singer/guitarist Steve Marriott, former Herd singer/guitarist Peter Frampton, ex-Spooky Tooth bassist Greg Ridley and ex-Little Women drummer Jerry Shirley. This unit gained immediate success with their debut As Safe as Yesterday, but internal disputes among the members had already begun to appear. Frampton wanted to focus on acoustic, listener-adapted rock-styled ballads while Marriott clearly preferred hard rock, and these opposites were apparently difficult to unite.

1970 was an important year as it saw the boundaries between rhythm & blues, psychedelic rock, hard rock, and progressive rock become increasingly blurred while total musical freedom with heavy metal was turning into reality. Wishbone Ash displayed uncomplicated and basic boogie rock on their eponymous debut but reactivated the use of twin lead guitars courtesy of Andy Powell and Ted Turner, and this effort became a long-time favourite among the audience. Finally, Status Quo caused some attention with their third album, Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon that had left the influences from psychedelic pop in favour of blues and rock with a twist of boogie rock. Likewise, the Savoy Brown Blues Band dropped the appendix 'Blues Band' and began focusing on a combination of hard rock and boogie rock on the album Blue Matter. These three acts soon garnered huge success in the US where this style was truly relished. Deep Purple introduced a re-organised line-up that truly gave Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord and Ian Paice musical opposition, which became evident on the organist's own composition Concerto for Group and Orchestra that was recorded with the assistance of conductor Malcolm Arnold and the Royal Symphony Orchestra. In conjunction with this effort, the band achieved a worldwide breakthrough with the album In Rock, which spawned classics such as 'Child in Time' and 'Speed King'. This development was not least due to their new vocalist Ian Gillan, whose vocals possessed a remarkable and outstanding range that crowned the omnipotent quintet, who by now offered a confident identity and nature.

In 1971, it was possible to outline the contours of the overall genre heavy metal much better than ever before; and it was Black Sabbath who set the agenda for the style. Their third album, Masters of Reality, yielded instant international success both commercially and musically. Deep Purple won commercial success with their sixth album Fireball, which described a principled and purposive hard rock band that was not afraid to brave the limits of the genre. On the other hand, the band quartet UFO consisting of vocalist Phil Mogg, guitarist Mick Bolton, bassist Pete Way and drummer Andy Parker completely defied these confines. The band debuted with UFO I, which was animated by the combination of hard rock, progressive rock and boogie rock, and the record earned a considerable amount of success in Germany and Japan. Furthermore, the grey area of the genre was opened up for other breaks with the regular norms. Jeff Beck and Cozy Powell formed a new version of Jeff Beck Group with singer Bobby Trench, bassist Clive Chaman and pianist Max Middleton resulting in Rough and Ready, which experimented moderately with elements from jazz.

Heavy metal in America

In Phoenix, Arizona, the enigmatic vocalist Alice Cooper (born Vincent Damon Furnier) introduced the band Alice Cooper, and their brand of heavy garage rock turned their debut Pretties for You into a commercial success, accordingly. Moreover, Michigan's Grand Funk Railroad achieved commercial success with their brash and over-amplified combination of garage rock and hard rock on On Time. Though both the band and their music were cited as dumb and unimaginative by the media, the musicians were successful among the audience. In the same period, the New Yorker Leslie West led Mountain – essentially a Cream-styled blues trio with the inclusion of a keyboard player – to success, not least due to his staccato, heavy phrases, which finally exploded into a long, high volume wail. By now, guitar and bass played concurrent lines, bass notes supported guitar chords, and instrumental 'call and response' emerged as a means of performance; the latter involved guitar alternating with either vocals or keyboards. The inherent blues was still popular in the US whereas the British scene was stagnant, and in 1973 Florida's Lynyrd Skynyrd intrigued with the tones from their debut Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd. This release held deep roots in the traditional blues of the Southern States as well as the spiritual life style but the music was highly inclined towards boogie rock, rock 'n' roll and hard rock with a touch of country & western. This music style found its primal exponents in Allman Brothers Band and Marshall Tucker Band some years earlier and was named Southern rock. Lynyrd Skynyrd's greatest feature was the three guitarists in the band line-up. Bachman-Turner Overdrive from Canada, who previously combined elements from rock and country & western under the moniker of Brave Belt, created a musical and commercial success with the debut Bachman-Turner Overdrive. The music turned heavily into hard rock with boogie elements but mostly became famous for the band's effective concerts.

Styx began to include the use of sophisticated touches from wind instruments on the album The Serpent Is Rising while the music in like manner became pompous, and this merely increased the success of the band. Boston's Aerosmith was met with modest commercial success the following year on the basis of their untitled debut. The music embraced pompous hard rock and R&B with a background of sophisticated wind arrangements. The central main characters of the band were vocalist Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry, who bore a striking likeness to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. The New York band Blue Öyster Cult recorded an untitled album, which was met with exceptionally positive response from the media. The same reaction however failed to turn up from the audience that reacted moderately towards the band's product, which was described as extremely loud and fast heavy metal. At the same time, it was revealed that the band was hyped heavily by manager Murray Krugman and producer Richard Meltzer who had long ago contemplated the establishment of a concept band. It did not take long before the American record business recognised the potential of the music scene and its exponents. Alice Cooper augmented his commercial crusade with the record School's Out, from which the title track gradually became a national hymn for teenagers 'suffering' from school fatigue, and all of a sudden heavy metal was a product that could be marketed to a wide target group.

Heavy metal goes progressive

In 1972, progressive hard rock celebrated its triumphal progress across the entire world. Suddenly, it had become possible to issue epic tracks far exceeding three minutes in length with commercial success despite the unmistakable appeal from the radio for shorter songs. Jethro Tull released Thick as a Brick, where the first side of the record was one long epic track, and Yes recorded Close to the Edge, which altogether followed the same fundamental concept. The big names on the British hard rock scene were now seriously on the run to burst out of the physical boundaries of the genre's musical possibilities, which the record companies began to adjust themselves to take advantage of. Black Sabbath won commercial success with Black Sabbath Vol. 4, which became the fourth masterpiece in a row for the band. Deep Purple recorded Machine Head, which made a starting point for classics such as 'Smoke on the Water', 'Lazy', 'Spacetruckin, 'Never Before' and 'Highway Star”, and later that year the live album Made in Japan was released. Clearly, Deep Purple was on a musical pinnacle, and the band was moreover entered in The Guinness Book of Records as the loudest playing pop band in the world. Behind the façade, however, lurked an incipient animosity between Gillan and Blackmore, which began to cause a serious internal crisis. Hence, Gillan made clear that he would leave Deep Purple and the singer subsequently recorded a solo demo, which was however rejected as unusable by the record company. In turn, Blackmore purposed to form the band Baby Face with former Free vocalist Paul Rodgers and Thin Lizzy bassist Phil Lynott but this project remained a sketch on the drawing table. The remaining members in Deep Purple and the record company soon convinced the warring parties to leave their disputes behind. It is however still all in the air whether Blackmore's Baby Face was in reality a real designed band or if he merely saw his chance to enlist the two musicians in Deep Purple.

In 1973, Deep Purple released Who Do We Think We Are, which was actually recorded the year before, but Ian Gillan and Roger Glover soon resigned decisively from the band in favour of Grand Shanade whose activities quickly petered out. Consequently, Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord and Ian Paice hired the obscure vocalist David Coverdale and the former Trapeze singer/bassist Glenn Hughes. Thin Lizzy broke through with their electric rendition of the Irish classic 'Whiskey in the Jar', which exemplified how hard rock could successfully be matched with folk music. Thin Lizzy did however not succeed in following up this success, and the band suffered a loss when Eric Bell was forced to take his leave due to exhaustion. The musicians' former Skid Row colleague Gary Moore gave a helping hand on a single tour but quickly resigned. Moreover, Gary Moore debuted as solo artist with Grinding Stone, which was orientated towards technical hard rock and placed its groundwork on Moore's brilliant playing. However, the record flopped commercially and did altogether not raise any particular attention on the scene. Nazareth from Scotland won commercial success with Razamanaz, which was comprised of hard rock with weight on rock ballads.

Mid-1970s crisis

The two former Vanilla Fudge musicians, Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice, finally got together with Jeff Beck around the release of an album consisting of dynamic hard rock. This release was expected to achieve commercial success solely on the background of the musicians' past in prominent bands, but despite a fair reception from the press, the record merely became a modest success, and the musical phenomenon, Beck, Bogert and Appice, was soon split up. The Californian guitarist Ronnie Montrose, a practised veteran from the studio environment of the American rock scene, launched the band Montrose, whose untitled debut became one of the year's commercial successes. The band's charismatic lead singer Sammy Hagar was moreover an extremely important figure, who appealed to the favour of the audience. On the whole, the same circumstances were in play for Ohio's Rick Derringer, who won a commercial breakthrough with All American Boy. On the other hand, the progressive scene held better conditions in the US where Kansas sent forth an untitled album, which encouraged elements from folk music and symphonic rock on a foundation of hard rock. The feature of the band was violinist Robbie Steinhardt who also performed as supplementary vocalist on several tracks. The Canadian band Rush launched itself on both the national scene and in North America with an arrangement comprised of R&B and hard rock with emphasis on progressive compositions from the band's debut. The New York band Kiss debuted with an untitled record that did not offer any musical innovation and received harsh criticism from the press. The band, however, which was composed of singer/guitarist Paul Stanley, singer/bassist Gene Simmons, guitarist/singer Ace Frehley and drummer/singer Peter Criss, became a huge sensation in no time. These four musicians had a completely distinct image comprised of cartoon-like costumes, platform boots and faces made up beyond recognition in grotesque masks inspired by Japanese theatre. Kiss immediately enjoyed the favour of the young audience, and the band was soon encountered at their concerts by loyal fans face-painted according to their favourite band member. The band’s concerts promptly developed into a spectacular scenario where Gene Simmons swallowed fire or thrust his tongue out of the oral cavity in a thoroughly devilish manner.

The two former Free musicians, Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke, got together with former Mott the Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and former King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell. This resulted in the super band Bad Company that immediately scored a giant hit with the single 'Can't Get Enough' from their untitled debut. The music returned to dynamic blues rock and hard rock with weight on radio-friendly hymns of the previous decade. Black Sabbath recorded a fifth studio album under the title Sabbath Bloody Sabbath with help from Yes organist Rick Wakeman. The band was clearly situated on a musical and commercial pinnacle but problems lurked behind the façade with a former manager, who prevented the band from touring with help from the press for almost two years. It was however far more oppressive that Ozzy Osbourne's increasing inclination towards alcohol and aversion to the musical development led him away from his three colleagues. Deep Purple released the two albums Burn and Stormbringer, which showed that vocalist David Coverdale contributed with sounds from soul and blues while Glenn Hughes contributed with elements from funk. Hughes furthermore complemented with vocals, which was an entirely new element in Deep Purple's music as well as hard rock in general. Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow released an untitled album, which elucidated Blackmore's preference for classical and traditional folk music, but the weight was still placed on hard rock as defined by Deep Purple and the record became an immediate success. Instantly, Blackmore displayed himself as a capricious and dictatorial band boss as he substituted all his musicians except Ronnie James Dio, who was a significant asset for the music. Rainbow's new drummer was the former Jeff Beck Group musician Cozy Powell, who would similarly show to be a valuable musician. Thin Lizzy finally won the desired breakthrough with Fighting, but beneath the surface lurked an increasing drug problem and various complications for Phil Lynott, and in the following period several of the band's concerts had to be cancelled for the same reason.

Guitar goes technical

The Dutch/American band Van Halen established itself as 'the loudest playing and most heavy band' in Los Angeles. The following year, the band accounted for an immense upheaval as guitarist Eddie Van Halen introduced a new way of handling his instrument. Among other things, this became audible in the so-called 'tapping' technique, which consisted in the musician letting his fingers run along the neck of the guitar, and this resulted in a rhythmical and harmonious pattern of sounds. Eddie van Halen was also in charge of hitherto unheard of measures that found a foundation in blues and classical. On the other hand, Van Halen's singer, David Lee Roth, became the incarnation of the ultimate showman as his flamboyant artistry developed into an important characteristic of the band. Despite this development and positive response from the audience, Van Halen found it difficult obtaining the record deal in demand. It was not solely Dutch musicians who began to make a name of themselves on the international scene, but there was rather a general boom in the emergence of players. Some Scottish emigrants led their hard-hitting band to immediate success in Australia with a combination of metallic boogie rock, blues, rock 'n' roll and hard rock on High Voltage. The band was called AC/DC and was fronted by the charismatic lead singer Bon Scott and the just as sensational lead guitarist Angus Young, who performed dressed in a traditional school uniform. Later that year, the successor TNT celebrated its march of success in Australia.

Seattle's Heart acquired commercial success with the debut Dreamboat Annie, which was composed of hard rock with an inclination towards pop melodies and elements from traditional folk music. The band was fronted by singer Ann Wilson and her guitar playing sister Nancy. Boston defied the slippery disco rhythms of the dance floor and conventional rock with the release of their untitled debut, which trailed a sophisticated, clean sound and adapted hit songs with the radio listeners as target group, which was characteristic of the AOR scene. The release was catapulted to the top by the hit 'More than a Feeling', and the album ended up becoming one of the world's best-selling records of all time. The track 'Dream On' from Aerosmith's debut became a belated super hit in the home country, while the album Rocks became a musical and commercial highlight. The Babys attained a breakthrough in the US with their debut by virtue of the single 'Isn't It Time?', which was inclined towards radio-friendly hard rock and AOR. Rush stormed back onto to scene with their fourth album in the form of the concept 2112, which was seriously orientated towards epic, progressive songs with the foundation in synthesisers, and this album gave the band a mainstream breakthrough.

In 1979, it became an incontrovertible truth that Ozzy Osbourne had left Black Sabbath definitively, who continued undauntedly with former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. This move was considered the deathblow of the band since a continued existence without Ozzy Osbourne seemed unthinkable, and the effect was amplified when Geezer Butler also took his departure from the band. In like manner, Aerosmith suffered a great loss when Joe Perry left the line-up and the band's latest release Nights in the Ruts signalled a musical low. The band's second guitarist, Brad Whitford, also soon broke the contact with his friends. Bad Company released Desolation Angels, which was disposed towards basic hard rock in preference to blues while the music was supplemented by a string foundation from synthesisers. The album did become a commercial success but was far from the original standard of the band. The capricious Ritchie Blackmore rearranged his line-up in Rainbow which meant a farewell to the popular Ronnie James Dio. Blackmore's former Deep Purple colleague Roger Glover was hired as a producer but also ended up becoming a bassist on the highly successful record Down to Earth, which introduced singer Graham Bonnet. The music was inclined towards mainstream heavy rock and implied a corresponding distance to the hard rock of the previous years that was not least of all due to Bonnet's radio-friendly vocals but also a result of ex-Colloseum keyboarder Don Airey's playing on his synthesiser. Kiss issued the hit 'I Was Made for Loving You', which was based on disco rhythms, and it was the record Van Halen II that on record time became one of the world's biggest sales successes, even though the music was in general a continuation of the style from Van Halen's debut.

In the late part of 1979, it became obvious that the great boom from pub rock and disco had decreased considerably although the elements from both genres would continue as either an independent style or implicitly in other styles of music – but the scene was ready for new challenges. The British new wave was already starting to dominate, and the progressive as well as blues-based hard rock kept hold on the metal scene, while heavy metal had still to unfold its wings completely. AC/DC distanced themselves considerably from the blues and boogie rock impulses of the earlier efforts with the release of Highway to Hell, which served far more broad-minded and direct heavy metal. The record became the band's first million seller and established AC/DC as a top name on the metal scene. In Canada, record companies such as Epic, Attic and Portrait had developed a liberal attitude towards heavy metal, which provided good opportunities for the evolution of this scene. The market soon exploded with new artists in the wake of Triumph's commercial breakthrough with Just a Game while Rush had dominated with the concept record Hemispheres a year earlier. The market was however soon to be absorbed by the New Wave off British Heavy Metal (see below) and the American thrash metal while the heavy metal and heavy rock genres in general would enter a popular age.

New genres in the 1970s to 1980s

In the late 1970s the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) made metal music very popular (especially in Europe) with bands like Iron Maiden, Saxon and Def Leppard. This period greatly influenced new metal sub-genres and can be considered as their common root. Sub-genres of heavy metal are numerous. The genres founded in the 1970s-1980s are:

  • Pop metal: A non progressive and flashy subgenre, which bands of this subgenre used to wear spandex, have long hare, and were, therefore, glam metal bands.
  • Thrash metal: A very aggressive and rhythm-based style of metal. Examples are Slayer, early Metallica, Deliverance, and Megadeth.
  • Black metal: A precise definition for this style is very hard to give. One approach is by the music, for black metal bands tend to have high pitched screams and different time signatures. Another approach is strictly based on the lyrics, which are thelemic or otherwise occult. Bands: Mayhem, Darkthrone and Venom (early black metal).
  • White metal: The same as black metal, only with lyrics based on a Christian viewpoint, typically Christian beliefs.
  • Goth metal fuses the bleak, icy atmospherics of Goth rock with the loud guitars and aggression of heavy metal, finding the middle ground between the two styles in a melodramatic sense of theatre and lyrical obsessions with religion and horror. Bands: Theatre of Tragedy, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride.
  • Doom metal: Inspired largely by the lumbering dirges and stoned, paranoid darkness of Black Sabbath, doom metal is one of the very few heavy metal subgenres to prize feel and mood more than flashy technique. Bands: Candlemass, Cathedral and Anathema.
  • Neo-classical metal: The most renowned artist is the Swedish guitar virtuoso Yngwie J. Malmsteen. In neo-classical metal, the traditional toolbox of metal song-writing is used, but with a twist: all of it takes place in a structure that is heavily influenced by Baroque music. The chord progressions, arpeggios, broken chords, and speedy scale runs of neo-classical metal are borrowed for the most part from J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Niccolo Paganini. Although Malmsteen is the most well-known proponent of this evolution of metal, however, classical elements used in heavy metal and hard rock date back to Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Eddie Van Halen's innovations in the late 1970s.

New genres in the 1990s-2000s

In the 1990s and 2000s, numerous bands came up and founded new subgenres of Metal. The genres that were founded within these 20 years are:

  • Power metal: Clean vocals and hymn-like choruses are characteristic for this style. The lyrics are often based on fantasy or sci-fi themes. Metal bands that are categorized as power metal are: Dragonforce, Helloween, Theocracy, Blind Guardian and Hammerfall.
  • Nu metal: A grunge influenced subgenre of metal with heavily distorted Guitars. Some bands use rapping, while others use singing and metal screaming. Bands such as Korn and Brian 'Head' Welch use singing and metal screaming but rarely raps, while bands such as P.O.D. use primarily rapping and singing and only seldom does metal screams. Linkin Park, however, does all three. Nu metal's priority is not innovative musicianship or a fast pace, but either to be heavy, i.e. the bands P.O.D. and Linkin Park, or to have a priority in the lyrics and have the music match the feeling and emotion of the lyrics while using different vocal techniques, i.e. Korn and Brian 'Head' Welch.
  • Death metal: Extreme music with low-pitched guitars and growling vocals. There is no common theme in the lyrics, they range from splatter (Cannibal Corpse) and war (Bolt Thrower) to Christian motives (Mortification). Besides the mentioned, Death, Morbid Angel and Entombed are other important bands.
  • Hardcore: A genre of metal music which the screams vary between black metal and death metal screams. The main difference between Hardcore and other extreme subgenres of metal is that hardcore metal's lyrics do not have a chorus, and that the music usually changes from heavy to soft throughout the song.


The most commonly used line-up for metal is a drummer, bass guitarist, rhythm guitarist, lead guitarist (in many hard rock bands a single guitarist handles both guitars, for example Leslie West (Mountain), Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath); (see also power trio) or both guitarists sharing the lead and rhythm parts, for example Wishbone Ash, Metallica), singer (who is sometimes also one of the instrumentalists), and occasionally a keyboard player. Additional instruments can be a wide range including violin, harpsichord, saxophone, and flute. Guitar playing is central in heavy metal. Distorted amplification of the guitars, with effects and electronic processing, is used to thicken the sound, as well as down-tuning guitars strings to strengthen the bass notes. Originally the result is simple and powerful, although some of the music media believed that their simplified sound was more the result of limited ability than of innovation. Later styles developed more complicated and technical approach to metal. Intricate solos and riffs are a big part of heavy metal music. Guitarists use sweep-picking, tapping and similar techniques for rapid playing which have evolved and expanded upon since the 1970s, from the traditional guitar techniques of 1960s guitarists.

There is a great variety of ways that heavy metal singers sing, from clean vocals to a high-pitched wail to a deep growl. The black and death metal scene tend to use distorted and guttural voices (eg. Deicide). Generally it's hard to understand what the singer is 'singing'. Often, the text is considered to be too crude to be spoken out clearly (eg. Cannibal Corpse), but there are some bands that will have lyrics deliberately obscured by the style of the singing (eg. Bolt Thrower).

Heavy metal's development was influenced by fantasy-fiction literature. As a result, a fantasy rock trend emerged on the music scene. It mainly combines elements of metal and its subcultures, including heavy metal, black metal, pagan metal and others. The power-fantasy metal is peculiar of academic vocal, light guitar tunes and application of 'fantasy' instruments as violin, and flute. Lyrics slightly remind medieval poems contending legends about dragons, primeval forests, beautiful maidens and brave knights. Bands, playing genuine fantasy rock were repeatedly referring to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Vikings, and Celtic mysticism.

Heavy metal, as an art form, is more than just music; it is as much visual as it is audible. Album covers and stage shows are almost as important to the presentation of the material as the music itself. Thus, through heavy metal, many artists collaborate to produce a menu of experiences in each piece, offering a wider range of experiences to the audience. In this respect, heavy metal becomes perhaps more of a diverse art form than any single form dominated by one method of expression. Whereas a painting is experienced visually, a symphony experienced audibly, a heavy metal band's 'image' and the common theme that binds all their music is expressed in the artwork on the album, the set of the stage, the tone of the lyrics, in addition to the sound of the music.

Political and social implications

Heavy metal has often been the target of censorship, criticism or at least controversy. Although the Finnish heavy metal group Lordi was chosen to represent Finland at the Eurovision Song Contest 2006, US-based foundations in particular, either religious or women-related, have strongly opposed heavy metal. The US organization, Parents' Music Resource Center (PRMC), prominently staffed by political figures such as US Senator Albert Fore, Jnr. and various other powerful governmental figures (e.g., Susan Baker, wife of James A. Baker), claimed in a congressional hearing in September 1985 that heavy metal did not adhere to the moral demands of the American culture. They applied the term 'porn rock' to the genre.

Heavy metal not only represented a musical trend and fashion: in its impact, it must be seen as an expression of the generation of the 1970s and 1980s, rebelling against the political and cultural necessities of the establishment. Yet, equality was not the target issue of this movement.

Nonetheless, it must be questioned whether the process of redefining heavy metal music, still adhering to its initial gender inequality (as illustrated in the song lyrics of current groups), is really an expression of cultural identity. Current heavy metal cannot be divided from its commercial development, having been supported by the rise of music television stations (MTV and its European counterpart VIVA) and the insatiable promotion machinery of the music industry. As a result, it has lost many of its initial claims.


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  2. Saunders, Mike (May 1971). Sir Lord Baltimore's 'Kingdom Come' (review). Creem. Retrieved on 17 March 2007.
  3. Weinstein (1991), p. 19
  4. Rockwell, John. New York Times, 4 February 1979, p. D22
  5. Rockwell, John. New York Times, 13 August 1979, p. C16