Heavy metal is a musical genre that was developed mainly in the United States of America and the United Kingdom, primarily noted for an emphasis on distortion, palm muting, aggressive lyrical content, bass-heavy sounds, as well as the influence of blues scales and classical structures. Heavy Metal has also spawned numerous sub genres which omit or improve upon standard technique, or invent new one altogether, giving heavy metal as a genre an impressive variety of styles and sounds. Heavy metal's origins are both rooted in the cultural upheavals that occurred during the 1960s, such as the conflict in Vietnam and the reevaluation and mass rejection of previous social schema, and the enormous influence of bands such as The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, and Black Sabbath that are regarded as proto-metal as well as hard rock. Other musical influences include psychedelic rock, blues rock, and the still developing progressive rock genre. Though heavy metal initially borrowed heavily from the blues in terms of playing style, this was later largely discarded by future metal acts such as Judas Priest.
The first style of rock which grew from this was distorted blues sound created by San Francisco based psychedelia band, Blue Cheer, whose influence on electric blues bands could be seen from Cream to Jimi Hendrix to ZZ Top. The second style was progressive rock, which in 1968 was led by English band King Crimson, combining jazz, classical, experimental, psychedelic and folk music. The precursor to this sound was The Beatles, arguably the first band to leave the standard rock format, creating longer song structures, many of which were narrative or neo-operatic. This was the main inspiration for later bands such as Camel, Genesis and Yes.
By 1969, the influence of these seminal artists had saturated those parts of the public consciousness which were focused on rock music as a developing art form, and contributed to the explosion of hard rock by, for example, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple and the so-called "proto-metal" of Black Sabbath. This year is now seen as the watershed moment in the development of what soon became heavy metal.
Black Sabbath originally began as an electric blues outfit named "Earth", but after discovering there was already a band using that name, changed to Black Sabbath after the 1964 Boris Karloff movie of the same name. Developing a new sound that was born both out of a change in attitude and the loss of lead Guitarist Tony Iommi's finger tips, Black Sabbath are largely credited with developing the more heavily distorted and crunchy elements that later became staples of the heavy metal style.
In 1973 the leading exponents of heavy metal were undoubtedly Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath, each having a technical prowess and a compositional inventiveness unseen before in mainstream popular music. This era also marked the beginnings of Satanic imagery and of the spectacular, energetic live shows which became a hallmark of later heavy metal spin offs. Led Zeppelin's guitarist Jimmy Page had a strong personal fascination with the occult, while many of Black Sabbath's lyrics dealt with it as well. Unlike many future bands, however, Black Sabbath never claimed to be Satanic. Singer Ozzy Osbourne claims that they were actually looking for a way to tap into the success and popularity of the horror genre, where people willingly paid to see a movie or read a novel intended solely to frighten them; to do so, they began to purposely write dark, ominous songs in an attempt to be music's answer to horror films.
Live shows were becoming bigger and more theatrical, notably Led Zeppelin's "rock till you drop" performances lasting two hours, and Alice Cooper's colossal shows following in the American tradition of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, promising "The Greatest Show On Earth". Cooper's shows featured boa constrictors, horrific freak-show mannequins, and dramatic fake-beheading scenes. Other key artists that emerged at this time included High Tide, Black Cat Bones, Black Widow, Uriah Heep, UFO and Blue Oyster Cult, and glam rockers Kiss. Each of the four members of Kiss took the on-stage persona of a cartoon-like character using elaborate face make-up and a science fiction style clothing. Another American band, Aerosmith, took the basic R 'n' B and rock 'n' roll structures of bands such as the Faces and Rolling Stones and transformed them into a new harder form. The late 70s saw a decline in the popularity of heavy metal, as the Punk movement, beginning in 1976, dominated the musical counterculture.
During the 1970s four British bands were formed that would arguably become the most dramatically influential of the genre during the 1980s: Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Motorhead. The 1980s also gave rise to the American thrash metal movement with notable bands being Anthrax, Metallica and its offshoot, Megadeth and Slayer. During the 1980s Glam Metal also became very popular with bands including Motley Crue, Ratt, Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister and Stryper.
The advent of Grunge in the early 90s is seen as the end of Glam Metal dominance. Nirvana's 'Nevermind' caused widespread public interest in alternative forms of music. Groove Metal became popular with Pantera's 'Cowboys from Hell' and Sepultura's 'Chaos AD'. The normally marginalized sub-genres of metal, that began forming in the early to mid 80s, soon enjoyed much wider exposure. Black Metal, especially in the Scandinavian countries, began to see a huge rise in popularity. Marduk, Mayhem, and Burzum were see at the forefront of the early black metal scene, and continued to see popularity due to the controversies that surrounded the bands, such as Marduk's fascination with the Third Reich and anti-Christian lyrical content; the murder of Mayhem's lead guitarist Euronymous by Burzum's Varg Vikernes, as well as the lyrical content and album themes of everything post 'Deathcrush'.
Due to its association with being "outsider music" and the more extreme forms that it has taken over the years, heavy metal has faced criticism from parents, parental groups, school administrators, politicians, music critics, religious organizations, law enforcement officials, feminists, environmentalists, moral guardians, and multiculturalists alike.
A musicologist wrote:
- The development of heavy metal music in the '60s and its continuing popularity through the '70s, '80s, and '90s coincides, for one thing, with the period of the greatest popularity horror films and books have ever known. Both mark a transitional moment in our history: the end of Pax Americana; new economic crises; de-industrialization, the decline of unions and the rise of low-pay service jobs; revelations of corrupt leadership; powerful social movements challenging dominant policies on race, gender, ecology, and consumer rights; new challenges to the stability of social institutions such as the family; and redefinitions of political themes such as freedom. Much of the culture of the past twenty years has functioned to restore the sense of security undermined by these disruptions. Heavy metal, like horror films, has provided ways of producing meaning in an irrational society.
Heavy metal music has been known to glamorize anti-Christian and liberal practices such as Satanism, Paganism, Atheism, promiscuity, racism, Nazism, alcoholism, drug and tobacco abuse, murder, suicide, genocide, war, sci-fi, fantasy, science, occultism, gambling, horror, and having tattoos. Despite this, there are bands with all of the musical characteristics of heavy metal—fast drums, distorted guitars, screamed or growled vocals, that put forth a Christian message. This genre is known as Christian metal, and is also sometimes referred to as White metal or unblack metal.
Feminists will also commonly criticize heavy metal for being "sexist", similarly to how they do it with rock and roll, country music, and rap. They have condemned music in all those genres for supposedly condoning "rape." Also, multiculturalists have also been known to criticize heavy metal, rock and roll, and country for being "racist". Environmentalists have also criticized it for "causing noise pollution".
Popular artists who do not perform Christian music but are Christians personally include Zakk Wylde (guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, and leader of Black Label Society), Nicko McBrain (current drummer of Iron Maiden), C.C. Deville (Poison), Brian 'Head' Welch (Korn), Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), Dan Spitz (Anthrax), Tom Araya (lead singer of Slayer), Peter Steele (Type O Negative), James Hetfield (Metallica), Ozzy Osbourne, and Dave Mustaine (Megadeth).
Studies of fans of heavy metal show that they are surprisingly gentle and easy-going. One such study compared heavy metal fans to fans of classical music, observing that they were quite similar in that they were creative and at ease but not as outgoing. At concerts fans are generally respectful of and look after one another.
The term was first used in a musical context by Canadian rock band Steppenwolf in their 1968 hit record "Born To Be Wild," which featured the line: "I like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder..." The song received worldwide exposure the following year when it was used in the soundtrack of the 1969 counterculture movie Easy Rider. However, the phrase "heavy metal" had previously been used in 1962 by William Burroughs in his novel The Soft Machine, which featured a character named "Uranian Willy, the Heavy Metal Kid". In 1964, Burroughs used it to describe mass technological destruction to the point of biological toxicity in his novel Nova Express.
- Dr. Robert Walser, Professor of Musicology, Dartmouth College - author of Running With the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music
- National Socialist Black Metal
- Study: Country Fans Work Hard, Metal Fans Are Gentle
- Billboard Hot 100 singles chart: highest position #2
- ISBN 0802133290 ISBN 978-0802133298
- ISBN 0802133304 ISBN 978-0802133304