Evolution of Heavy Metal
To start, it helps to understand that the origins of Metal Bands came from Rock and Roll that evolved from the
Blues and Psychedelic sounds prominent in the sixties. As it took a heavier turn with the use of
distortion and power chords, there came the sound known as Hard Rock, perpetuated most
significantly by Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple who were verging on something yet to be defined.
But as bands like Black Sabbath emerged with groundbreaking new albums such as their 1970
record Paranoid, it became obvious that the roots in blues that other Rock bands stuck to were
being shed, replacing the ‘swing’ aspect with a ‘headbanger’ vibe, and where riffs used to center
around chord progressions, they could now be described as standalone melodies.
Other influences shaping the new sound were progressive rock
bands like Jethro Tull, and horror movie soundtracks like those of Boris Karloff’s films. Following
with the theme of darkness and horror, another aspect that drew the divide between Rock and
Heavy Metal was the difference in lyrical content. In contrast to the romantic notions, peace-
promoting lines and happy sentiments that were the norm for rock music in the era, Heavy Metal
explored the serious side of reality, life beyond individual desires, mortality, and was heavily
influenced by the work of occult writers such as Dennis Wheatley.
As the genre became its own through the seventies, the lines
between Hard Rock and Metal continued to be blurred (Van Halen, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Iron
Maiden, Alice Cooper, Def Leppard, Budgie, Kiss, Motorhead, Thin Lizzy), but by 1978 the
movement of pure Metal could be confirmed, and subgenres began to emerge.
Of course, the sound was not the only thing that made the Metal
scene. Beginning with the introduction of leather and studs by Judas Priest, Metal fashion quickly
became essential to being accepted as part of the Metal world. Coming out from the Los
Angeles/Sunset Strip scene in the late seventies and into the eighties, socalled “hair bands” known
for their personal style – men with long, teased and aquanetted locks, tight jeans and leather, and a
penchant for eyeliner – were the face of Glam Metal as the focus for some bands (Motley Crue,
Poison, Ratt, Quiet Riot) transitioned to a “glamorous” lifestyle to be emulated by the fans.
Simultaneously evolving was the Speed Metal sound, which
focused primarily on melody and technical excellence, demonstrated by bands such as Anthrax,
Anvil and Pantera. Quickly borne from this sound was Speed Metal’s close relative, Thrash Metal.
By 1981 the “Big Four” bands – Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax – pioneered the Thrash
Metal front in complete contrast and perhaps as a reaction to the conventionality of the Glam
Metal scene. Speed Metal and Thrash Metal took elements from the New Wave of British Heavy
Metal and hardcore punk, focusing heavily on speed, aggression, and social issues such as
reproach for “The Establishment.”
Stemming from Thrash Metal, the 1980s also saw the
beginnings of Black Metal, Death Metal, and Grindcore. More of an underground variety, Black
Metal, beginning with bands like Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, and Celtic Frost, differed in its
use of shrieking vocals and unconventional song structures that presented extremely dark subject
matter such as Satanism. Similarly misanthropic, bands like Venom, Slayer, Possessed and Death
which identified as Death Metal bands also used highly distorted guitars, tremolo picking and blast
beat drumming, but replaced the shrieking vocals of Black Metal with deep growling. With vocals
that range between the two extremities of shrieking and growling, Grindcore took on more
elements of the Hardcore Punk, Industrial, and Noise Music that was coming out of Great Britain.
Its lyrics ranged from provocative to gory, and also addressed social and political concerns.
Despite the significant followings of these subgenres, those
longstanding bands which were most closely related to the origins of Heavy Metal – Ozzy
Osbourne, Metallica, Judas Priest, Megadeth, Pantera – continued to dominate the scene through
the late eighties and into the 1990s.
In the early 1990s, yet another metal sound was emerging – the
1993 release of Korn’s debut album signified the beginnings of NuMetal, a fusion of Thrash Metal
and Alternative Metal with a more urban persuasion using elements of Hiphop and Industrial.
Other bands like Deftones, Staind, Limp Bizkit, and Slipknot followed in the same vein and Nu-
metal gathered the masses through the late nineties and early 2000s. However, as quickly as it
erupted, the mainstream popularity of numetal declined and a shift back toward traditional heavy
metal and alternative metal occurred.
Today fans exist for all subgenres described so far, and there
are so many more – Metalcore, Power Metal, Industrial Metal, Progressive Metal, Pop Metal, Folk
Metal, Goth Metal, the list goes on. The fact is, since its inception Heavy Metal has proven to be
an enduring and complicated beast – and through many more evolutions to be sure, will continue
to thrive with legions of hardcore fans, young and old.
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