Heavy Metalrock music that developed over the late 1960s and into the 1970s, centered mostly in the United Kingdom and the United States. Taking elements from the blues rock and psychedelic rock of that era, the pioneering bands that formed heavy metal developed a thick, deep sound, characterized by amplified distortion, extended guitar solos and emphatic beats. One of the key elements was the overall loudness. Heavy metal lyrics and performance styles are often associated with masculinity, aggression and machismo. The pioneering bands of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath attracted large audiences despite being chastised by critics; a problem that has plagued the genre throughout its entire history. Despite the criticism, heavy metal has become the largest music genre ever, second only to Jazz. It is one of the single largest genres in the Diskery database.
It would be the mid-1970s when heavy metal, as we now know it, evolved, when Judas Priest discarded much of its blues influences and became the first band identified in the media as "Heavy Metal". Around the same time, Motörhead introduced punk rock styles and re-enforced the desire for speed, something that had been lacking in the very early bands. By the end of the decade KISS would emerge to present flashy stage performances of pyrotechnics, wild costumes, painted faces, merchandise marketing and anthem songs. KISS would become the single biggest selling heavy metal band in history; one of the largest in rock 'n' roll -- period.
The 1980s saw heavy metal move out of biker bars and into stadiums when suburban teenagers became attracted in enormous numbers to the arrival of bands in the New Wave of British heavy metal style (NWOBHM) such as Iron Maiden, Tygers of Pan Tang and Saxon. Soon later fans of heavy metal became commonly known as "metalheads" or "headbangers".
The 1980s was the hay-days of heavy metal. In the early days, lo-fi recordings were common as record labels refused to invest heavily in this non radio friendly music, but by the end of the decade heavy metal became an industry of its own earning publishers, and others, billions of dollars. A good case for making those billions was glam metal with groups like Mötley Crüe and Poison putting on manicured hair, skin tight, sometimes effeminate clothing and bright colors while boasting songs of party and teenage angst.
But the 1980s were not finished... metal was busy evolving into many underground scenes producing an array of more extreme styles, like: thrash, death, black, metalcore, industrial, and speed, among others. Of them Thrash became the most successful with bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax; the other genres remained in the background but with an avid following. Since the mid-1990s, more divisions occurred with the arrival of grunge, progressive and nu-metal, to name a few. Each new style altered the instrumentation of the heavy metal genre as a whole: perhaps the speed, guitar, vocal, rhythm, or drum style was the modified subject. The result expanded the musical style as a whole and customized the music to the tastes of new listeners.
The typical band membership includes a drummer, a bassist, two guitarists (lead and rhythm), and a singer (or two), who may or may not be instrumentalist(s). Keyboard instruments are sometimes used to enhance the fullness of the sound and was especially popular during the 1980s. The electric guitar, specifically the sonic power that it projects via amplification and distortion is the key element in the heavy metal sound with the vocals taking a subordinate role: vocals often including: screaming, multi-high-octave, growling, or plain gruff, depending on the genre. The bass guitar provides the low-end sound crucial to making the music "heavy". Drums utilize speed, power and precision to make their point; a point that requires a large amount of endurance on the part of the performer. Live performance is a form of audio war where speed and sheer volume are valued. Often both the fans and the performers are the entertainment, intentionally or unintentionally.
Although some bands have successfully performed what is commonly known as "the power ballad", relationships are rarely addressed in the subject matter of heavy metal songs. Instead, war, death, violence, folklore, fantasy, paganism, politics, teenage angst, sex, and plain and simple anthems to heavy metal itself as often chosen. The subject matter has often infuriated critics and governments alike calling heavy metal lyrics 'juvenile' and 'banal', and believe it advocates misogyny and the occult. During the 1980s, the Parents Music Resource Center petitioned the U.S. Congress to regulate the popular music industry due to what the group asserted were objectionable lyrics, particularly those in heavy metal songs. They received success in having recordings rated but failed in their over-all goal of shutting metal up. In the end they found themselves at the back end of multiple lawsuits and ridicule.
Visual performance and imagery is important in heavy metal in the form of album sleeve art, logos, stage sets, clothing and music videos. In some cases the expression (Re: GWAR, KISS, as well as generally in genres like Glam and black metal) manifests itself outrageous performance persona's, props, costumes and stage shows.
Throughout its history horror films, S&M, punk rock, Goth and motorcycle club attire have influenced the typical heavy metal fans, resulting in the classic uniform of ripped/frayed or torn blue jeans, black T-shirts, boots and black leather or jean jackets; the T-shirts are generally marked with the logos or other visual representations of favorite metal bands. Chains, skulls, crosses, leather pants, spikes and studs are now also common features. The most standardized feature, and most crucial, is down the back long hair, especially among men that symbolized their rebellion and "freedom"; a style they inherited way back to metal's formation in the days of the hippies, although, as older metalheads now age, baldness has become more accepted.
The long hair often seen worn by "metalheads" also aids in one of the few 'dances' utilized by metal fans known as "the headbang". Like the punk rocker "pogo", it is designed for use in the confined space of a packed club or stadium where the individual violently nods their head in sync with the music beats, allowing their hair to flail around. Likewise, The 'il cornuto', or devil horns (hand gesture), also widespread, was popularized by vocalist Ronnie James Dio while with the bands Black Sabbath and Dio; not to mention the very masculine arm thrust is also used.
While the metal fanbase is largely young, white, male, and blue-collar, the group has expanded in recent years to become more multi-cultural of those who follow its codes of dress, appearance, and behavior. Identification with the subculture is strengthened not only by the attendance at concerts and fashion, but also by contributing to metal magazines/websites, and music tastes.
Although the term "heavy metal" has been used for centuries to identify certain types of metals on what we now call the periodic table (certain types of metals with certain attributes/atomic values: i.e. uranium). The popular cultural use of the term was first used by counter-cultural writer William S. Burroughs. His 1962 novel 'The Soft Machine' included a character known as "Uranian Willy, the heavy metal Kid." Burroughs's next novel, 'Nova Express', developed the theme, using heavy metal as a metaphor for addictive drugs. But historian Ian Christe dates the term back to the era, morso than the books of the time by calling it "hippiespeak" (often referred to as 'beatnik slang') "heavy" meaning "profound," and "metal" meaning the a grinding/waited mood. "Heavy Metal" is also slang for 'Motorcycle' amongst motorcycle groups. The first use of "heavy metal" in a song lyric is in reference to a motorcycle in the Steppenwolf song "Born to Be Wild" in 1968. Later, Judas Priest would be formerly classified as "Heavy Metal" as performing a distinct style of "Hard Rock" and the name has been retro-actively installed upon many bands dating all the way back to that 1968 Steppenwolf song.
So, what is heavy metal?
Heavy Metal music in its most basic form is over amplified rock music. The use of 'Classical' music styles (or direct rip offs of classical composer's works, such as Bach, Bethoven, Braums) is common place in heavy metal, indeed, many performers in the genre have been classically trained. Therefore, heavy metal is basically electrically amplified classical music put to a rock 4/4 pentameter using blues based vocal styles to Gothic-horror or punk rock story plots. heavy metal (or just 'Metal') music is/was a distinct evolution to rock music that grew to become the second largest form of music ever developed (second only to Jazz).
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