Hard Rock Music Archives
Heavy metal (or simply 'metal') is a form of of rock 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 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, Motorhead 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 significantly in this non-radio friendly music, but by the end of the decade heavy metal became an industry of its own by earning publishers, record labels, and others, billions of dollars. A good case for making those billions was glam metal with groups like Motley Crue and Poison putting on manicured hair, skin tight, sometimes effeminate clothing, and bright colors while boasting songs about sex, parties and teenage angst.
But the 1980s were not finished... heavy metal was busy evolving into many underground scenes producing an array of more extreme styles, like: thrash metal, death metal, black metal, metalcore, industrial metal, and speed metal, among others. Of them thrash metal became the most successful with bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. Other genres remained in the background but with an avid following. Since the mid-1990s, more divisions occurred with the arrival of grunge in the form of Soundgarden and Nirvana, progressive metal of Voivod and Queensryche, and the nu-metal styles of Slipknot and Korn, 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.
Who listens to heavy metal?
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 fan base 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 magazines, websites, and music purchases.
Origin of the name:
So, what is heavy metal music?
File record #: 36