History of Heavy Metal


If you are unfamiliar with the heavy metal genre it is understandable if you feel a little bit confused when you first listen to it. And maybe the first question that will pop into your mind is what is the difference of heavy metal to traditional rock music? And what is death metal? Well, these are all the questions that will be answered in this article. So read along and maybe by the end of this article, you will be adding some Metallica songs on your playlist.


Heavy metal first appeared in the United States and England during the early 1970s  as an effect of the rock music of that time. While several hard rock artists such as The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin tried different styles of guitar amplification and on-stage tricks, their music was still somehow related to blues and previous forms of rock music. 

The first band that was considered to be a true heavy metal band was Black Sabbath. The band somehow created the pattern for a completely new genre of rock music with their use of religious lyrical themes, and darker musical tones with crushing and slow heaviness on their music. Compare to other genres of popular music attempt to talk about real-life experiences, politics, or love heavy metal is known for having supernatural and religious metaphors. For example, Ozzy Osbourne, the vocalist of Black Sabbath, wrote songs that talks about revolting monsters and occult ceremonies but in fact, he just used these images as metaphors to talk about alienation and war.

Heavy Metal Culture

During the late 1970s, a new generation of bands took inspiration from Black Sabbath’s ominous sound, while they sped up the tempo of their songs and it goes to show that these bands continued to distance themselves from the blues roots of rock. Bands such as Motorhead and Judas Priest from England and Scorpions from Germany all added intensity and speed to Black Sabbath’s sound to create their own musical approach to the genre. Since then, several publications started using the term heavy metal to describe this new approach in music.

And in large cities like England, heavy metal music developed at the same time as the punk movement, and this created some kind of moral outrage throughout the United Kingdom. Heavy metal borrowed the leather and denim from outlaw biker culture, the speed and pessimism of punk, and an attraction with occultism from horror films and heavy metal pioneer, Black Sabbath. That’s why heavy metal emerged in the late 1970s as not just a distinct musical genre, but as a fully formed subculture. 

The 1980s: The Golden Age of Heavy Metal and the Rise of Extreme Metal

When the 1980s came, heavy metal saw an explosion in its musical development, popularity and geographic spread. In fact, during the early 1980s, there was a movement within England called the new wave of heavy metal and it was led by bands such as Judas Priest, Diamond Head and Iron Maiden. The blues base which was branded in almost all earlier forms of rock music was now almost gone. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal mostly featured songs that have two harmonizing electric guitars, themes concerning rebellion, Satanism, and the occult, with high, sobbing vocals. It was also during the 1980s when the popularity of heavy metal started to spread in Europe and North America. It became so popular that bands started filling stadiums and outraging conservative parents. 

During the surge of popularity of the heavy metal music 1980s, the subculture that had formed around the music also began to break into different subgenres and scenes. Metal bands such as Han Helen, Def Leppard, and Twisted sister started to become more accessible to the mainstream audience because they released pop-friendly, catchy, radio-friendly songs which they combined with flashy, often gender-bending costumes. This led to the creation of a heavy metal subgenre known as glam metal. 

During this same time, several bands in Europe started taking heavy metal into another level. They started to produce songs with dark, experimental and thematically provoking directions. And this was partly because the audience saw pop-friendly and radio-friendly metal bands as sellouts. Heavy metal bands such as Venom, Hellhammer, and Merciful Fate sang overtly satanic lyrics accompanied by music that was more intense and extreme compared to the early heavy metal songs.

However,  the United States, heavy metal musicians started to play faster than their British friends. And these fast-paced songs created another subgenre which is known as thrash metal. American bands such as Megadeth, Metallica, and Slayer were the ones who were at the forefront of this movement. Thrash metal, also became extremely popular in Europe to the point where it ushered in a split in heavy metal subculture between extreme metal and mainstream metal. 

While the most famous and successful heavy metal bands of the 1980s were mostly from North America and Europe, heavy metal music still managed to spread all over the world during the middle of 1980s. Heavy Metal left a powerful impression about rebellious young people the world over. And today, heavy metal is one of the most popular music in all music youth cultures all over the world. 

Death Metal, Black Metal, and Grindcore

When the 1990s came, subgenres of heavy metal such as grindcore, death metal, and black metal took heavy metal to another level in terms of musical and ideological extremes. These subgenres all featured various types of screaming on songs which showed that heavy metal completely departed from traditional singing. On these subgenres, bands also used percussion and guitar techniques to create a highly intense, and maybe to some people, unlistenable, type of extreme heavy metal music.

During the beginning of the 21st century, heavy metal music and its subcultures continued to grow and spread all across the globe and traditional heavy metal continues to exist together with extreme metal genres while new subgenres are being created all the time. Heavy metal began as an even heavier version of hard rock music, but it has somehow turned into a musical, artistic, and even aesthetic music genre of popular music. And to prove its popularity, several heavy metal festivals are held all over the world, and new generations of fans and bands continue to celebrate, produce and heavy metal. 

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