Created | Updated Jun 24, 2007
Heavy Metal is the variety of music that is played hard, fast and loud by bands that have, on average, at least two guitarists in them. Abbreviated to HM, it is a genre that is possibly one of the hardest to be a fan of. HM fans are stereotyped as long-haired, air guitar playing drop-outs with no girlfriends, and are shunned by fans of other music genres.
This makes HM one of the purest music genres around. If you are a serious fan of it, then your love for the music will come from your heart, as that is how you will be able to stick with the music through thick or thin. True HM fans can spot a phoney from a mile off.
History by Decades
Not many younger people will realise that the roots of HM lie in the 1960s, with the blues, a supergroup named Cream and Jimi Hendrix.
It can be argued that the roots of all modern music genres lie in the blues. Certainly much of the music you will listen to will tie in with early American Blues. Is that why that music sounded like something from an Eric Clapton record your dad had been playing? It's not a case of copying the music, it's the way the music has evolved.
Cream was a supergroup that lasted for two and a half years from late 1966 - 1969. Its members, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, were possibly the best musicians of their instruments at that time, if not still now. They played blues/jazz, but with a much heavier element to it. This is due to Baker and Bruce's style, and a meeting Clapton had with Jimi Hendrix in 1967. Their later concerts were played at an ear-shatteringly loud volume, so that even Jack Bruce complained of the loudness.
Cream played songs that could last up to 20 minutes long. This was before Mike Oldfield wrote Tubular Bells. They were something entirely new to audiences of the 1960s.
When Cream split, there was nobody left to play music like them; until Led Zeppelin arrived in the 1970s1.
The predominant music fashions in the 1970s were Glam Rock, Heavy Metal and Punk. This was the decade where HM first appeared as we know it, spearheaded by the likes of Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Motorhead, and Black Sabbath. It was rather tame compared to the HM you may be familiar with today, but still rather hardcore for audiences back then. These were the days before the likes of Slayer and Bathory.
When the punk scene arrived, it nearly sounded the death knell for the HM genre. Big names of the decade like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd had, in their success, became over-indulgent. They were described as lumbering, over-pompous dinosaurs, out of touch with the music scene.
Punk wanted to start afresh, with its own radical sound. While punks flourished, certain new bands were making names for themselves in the pubs. It was a struggle for them, but they were to be rewarded in the 1980s...
From 1979 - 1981 there was a period known as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM for short), which, some would argue, was HM at its finest. Suddenly bands that had remained unknown in the late 1970s began making it big. Popular weekly music mag Kerrang! has its roots in this period. Prominent names around this time were Iron Maiden, Samson, Judas Priest, Angel Witch and Saxon, among others. Venues like the Hammersmith Odeon and the Marquee in London, Castle Donnington and Neal Kay's Bandwagon became Meccas for fans. The music from this period was even louder and harder than before, and the 1980s would produce some of the heaviest metal bands ever.
The metal revolution was not restricted to the UK. In 1981, in Los Angeles, America, a band named Slayer began life. They were to go on to invent a new sub-genre for HM, called Thrash Metal.
Few new bands became popular in Britain after the NWOBHM period, but one name, Metallica, stood out.
Sadly, Heavy Metal is not what many people associate with 1980s music. For most of the decade music was dominated by the electronic pop sound. The NWOBHM came to a sad end in 1981, when punters decided they were no longer interested any more. Only well-established names survived in the UK: Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon, AC/DC2, Motorhead, and so on. Slayer still had to make a reputation for themselves, but they did this very quickly.
Some argue that the 1990s were a period of tragedy for music fans. With the dominance of Britpop, dance, and commercial bands aimed at brainwashing 13 year-old girls, it was harder than ever to get along with loving your own favourite type of music, especially if it happened to be HM.
Only recently have things begun to change. Established names, those that won't ever go away, are being joined by new talent from the likes of Slipknot, Kittie, Cradle of Filth, Marilyn Manson and Korn, to keep the list short.
But still the genre is in peril. Money-grabbing suits in the music business are allowing commercial, mainstream bands into the HM scene. It may be a case of 'some things never change', but fans are lynching each other over which bands they like. Bands like Slipknot and Marilyn Manson are comdemned as posers, due to their extreme sound and image.
Recently, new bands seem to produce music that is either extreme or a bit soft. Elements of rap can be found in certain bands, but this could be down to the commercial element that dominates music; rap being something that is very fashionable.
Sub-genres of Heavy Metal
Thrash Metal was almost single-handedly invented by Slayer, Thrash is HM speeded up, and thus it will sound heavier than conventional HM.
Speed Metal does exactly what it says on the tin. The music is played with the specific intention of being as fast as possible. It requires skill to stop it being just noise.
Death Metal covers stereotypical subjects of death, suffering, war, Satanism etc. It is accompanied by a sound that matches the topic of the music.
Black Metal is almost Satanic in sound and nature. Almost all Black Metal bands will claim allegiance to Satan, though this is just an act. A few of them, however, probably really do. A lot of Death Metal bands come from Sweden, like Bathory, who were the masters of this genre.
White Metal groups are Christians playing HM. Their faith will be incorporated into their music, but of course will be made to sound harder than it actually is.
Some Heavy Metal Bands and Influences
- Deep Purple
- Iron Butterfly
- Quicksilver Messenger Service
- Velvet Underground
- The Motley Crew
- Guns n Roses
- The Byrds
- Pink Floyd