The Decade Metal Died Twice

Essays on heavy metal, #2 – How heavy metal nearly died in the 1970’s

“I submit that there was no such thing as heavy metal after the year 1972.”

These are the words of the famous American music critic, Lester Bangs, which he wrote in 1977 in response to the punk explosion. Bangs saw little reason for heavy metal, what was left of it in 1977 anyway, to survive. Having already become a reputable critic in the late sixties, Bangs frequently used the words “metal” and “heavy metal” in his reviews to describe the sound or musical intelligence of particular artists, and even though he may not have been the one to append it to a particular style of rock music, he frequently used the term. Bangs recognized that bands like Grand Funk and Black Sabbath had a distinct sound and message. The sound was nothing he particularly cared for. About Grand Funk, he wrote, “Grand Funk were only good when they sounded like shit…” and of Led Zeppelin he famously said, “Like Cream only worse”.

It’s a commonly accepted notion that heavy metal music was born in 1969/70HEAVY-METAL-1966-1984-Lester-Bangs-Paul-Suter_slika_O_43121529martinpopoff_yeoldmetal_68-72_1024x1024, with some arguing that it was actually a little before that and others claiming the exact birth

date to be February 13th, 1970, when Black Sabbath released its eponymous debut. Emerging from the British R&B scene and the American garage rock scene, brought to life by heavy, distorted electric guitars, pounding rhythm sections and powerhouse vocals, and supercharged in the post-psychedelic sixties, heavy metal was truly born around the turn of the decade, partly as rebuttal against the flower power love and peace movements of the sixties whose idealistic world never materialized as war, political corruption, environmental destruction, criminal incarceration and punishment, substance abuse, mental illness, and general human treachery proved to be the truths of a world ruled by Satan. The distorted guitar sounds had already been called “metal” several times in the sixties and the seriousness of the lyrical subjects were certainly heavy. But it was at last in the early seventies that the words were put together to suggest a certain genre and not just a sound.

Author Gene Sculatti wrote in the pages of Bomp fanzine, “By stipping back hard rock to its primal blues roots… one interesting stylistic stream was discovered and,  for about 18 months, worked energetically: Heavy Metal”. Just try a YouTube search for early seventies heavy metal and begin exploring. So many bands, whose legacies of obscure releases and shelved demos are preserved on the Internet thanks to record collectors, were trying their hands at gritty, rumbling, loud music. This 1976 article on Robert Plant in People weekly claims that the “Age of Heavy Metal” lasted approximately from 1969 to 1971 and the musical style has “faded from fashion”. Heavy metal died in 1971/72.

This is not entirely inaccurate. In 1970/71, we can find dozens of examples of bands worldwide recording heavy, buzzing and grinding riffs, often backed by a thunderous Hammond organ, and a general appreciation for very loud music and lyrics that make the hippy flowers wilt in despair. Dust members claim that no one was playing as loud as they were in 69/70 and Lester Bangs likened Black Sabbath’s guitars to battering rams.

It is interesting to consider that the very appellation of “heavy metal” may have caused the fad to fade. It was used originally as a derogatory term, notes Black Sabbath’s Terry Butler; the band’s music was described as the sound of heavy metal falling from the sky, a simile previously applied to the music of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Many musicians felt their music was being called “clumsy” and “lumbering”. Robert Plant continues to point out that Led Zeppelin were more than just about “leadbelly” music.

It’s possible that in reaction to “heavy metal’s” association with dull, juggernaut-like, graceless music that in 1972, there was a change in the wind. Many bands like Deep Purple, Bloodrock, Grand Funk, and Bang were beginning to modify their sound. More organ but not as heavy, or add piano instead of having organ. Guitar distortion more controlled and more use of less distorted or clean guitars and more obvious jazzy or bluesy parts. Some bands switched to a progressive style, some added more folk influences and acoustic tracks, others went for more melody and a radio-friendly, mainstream style. Still others broke up entirely.

Some bands soldiered on but to little avail. Sudden Death never saw their demo album released until the nineties; Necromandus and Iron Maiden (of Essex) suffered a similar fate. Supernaut, too. Canada’s Twitch tried to push the envelope but at a time when it was unfashionable. Any bands who tried to keep the gravity of their music – both in heaviness and severity of subject matter – found themselves lacking fans as guitar rock began to split between the nascent punk rock sound and AOR. A new breed of bands who sang about fast women, fast times, and a life of rock and roll and who largely relied on the pentatonic scale instead of experimenting with the chromatic scale and classical influences were taking the centre stage: Aerosmith, Ted Nugent(’s Amboy Dukes), KISS, Nazareth, Thin Lizzy, Sweet, April Wine, Bachman Turner Overdrive, etc. The dark, heavy side of metal went underground with bands like Pentagram, Bedemon, Desirèe and Cold Feet or survived only in occasional moments of release like Nazareth’s Miss Misery and Aerosmith’s Nobody’s Fault. Black Sabbath was the only big name band that truly refused to change their ways.

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It’s all metal, baby… in 1974

Ironically, as the hard rock acts (as they are mostly recognized today) became the new black, the term “heavy metal” was applied to them. By the late seventies, heavy metal was a commonly flouted moniker for loud and heavy guitar music and applied to a good number of bands.

Yet as the punk movement grew and disco also came into vogue, heavy metal was in trouble. Like its more cultured cousin, progressive rock, heavy metal was being threatened by extinction. Or at least that was what the music press was suggesting. By 1978, it seemed that heavy metal was on the verge of death.

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Is Heavy Metal Dead in 1978?

Of course, heavy metal was not dying at all. It was undergoing a metamorphosis that was first suggested by Judas Priest and Rainbow in 1976. By 1977, British heavy metal bands were forming with the seeds for a new take on metal already germinating. And in 1979/80, the dam burst and a whole new generation of heavy metal enthusiasts flooded forth, not only delivering a revamped and more intense version of heavy metal to the world, but also inspiring the forth-coming thrash metal movement in the United States.

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Back from the Dead – Heavy Metal

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Heavy Metal: Music By Any Other Name

Essays on Heavy Metal, Number #1 – The significance of the term “heavy metal” as a moniker for a genre of music

Heavy metal has been around for nearly 50 years and despite repeated threats of extinction, the music has always managed to adapt and evolve, ever thriving in the underground scene when mainstream success was for the most part unattainable. Heavy metal has never truly cared anyway. The fans have never truly expected airwave dominance either. Mainstream success would mean intervening record companies who would fluff up the sound or bands who would “sell out” by choosing to fluff up their sound.

For legions of metal fans, the term “heavy metal” is synonymous with the personal choice of enjoying music that has been the bane of critics, a hot piece of iron difficult to handle for radio stations, and something of ridicule for many classic rock and pop musicians, not to mention aficionados of jazz and classical music. Choosing metal is a statement of individuality over following the galvanized pop for the masses or some hoity-toity community of ivory tower music snobs. Yet while fans maintain a pride in being “metalheads” and “headbangers”, many progenitors of the genre don’t want to be associated with the monster they created. Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin refers to early seventies heavy metal as “that horrendous boring period in music.” Cream bass guitarist and vocalist, Jack Bruce, once said, “I still don’t take the blame for inventing heavy metal. Hang that one on Led Zeppelin”. Fellow bandmate and drummer Ginger Baker put it more disdainfully: “People say Cream gave birth to heavy metal. If that’s so, we should have had an abortion.”

Metal Sucks

So, is it the musical style that is so repulsive or the image? Or is it just the term “heavy metal”? Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan has never liked the label. “Heavy metal is a term that is just unintentionally clumsy.” Black Sabbath’s Terry Butler said of it that Black Sabbath’s music was likened to the sound of a box of heavy metal objects being dropped. As for music critic Lester Bangs, in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, he posited a more articulate statement against heavy metal:

“As its detractors have always claimed, heavy-metal rock is nothing more than a bunch of noise; it is not music, it’s distortion—and that is precisely why its adherents find it appealing. Of all contemporary rock, it is the genre most closely identified with violence and aggression, rapine and carnage.”

Not surprisingly, for musicians who believed they were making music and not noise, being associated with such an unflattering label was tantamount to career damnation. No matter what talent you possessed, if you were heavy metal then you were just loud and noisy and unsophisticated. Lemmy Kilmister skirted the association with the label by always claiming that his band, Motorhead, played rock and roll and insisted that heavy metal was just rock and roll.

When the term “heavy metal” first began being used to describe a genre of music in the early 1970’s, it was applied as a pejorative; “heavy metal-leaden shit-rock” was how critic Mike Saunders described the music of Humble Pie’s Safe as Yesterday Is in his review of the album. Their third and self-titled album was described as, “more of the same 27th-rate heavy metal crap”. Considering that in those days, heavy metals such as mercury and cadmium were poisoning the environment, there wasn’t much that was flattering about the appellation.

Why “Heavy Metal”?

Even still, why did Saunders think to apply the label to an emerging subgenre of popular music. Deena Weinstein explores the roots of the term in her paper entitled Just So Stories: How Heavy Metal Got Its Name—A Cautionary Tale. Mike Saunders wrote his reviews while attending college and had spent some time studying the Periodic Table of the Elements. “Heavy metal” and “leaden metal” were still fresh in his mind when he considered the heavy, leaden drumming on the Humble Pie albums, drumming that lacked the “swing” of hard rock. In an email message to Weinstein, Saunders explained how he derived the term:

“I’d taken freshman chemistry during fall 1969 and spring 1970 semesters … the phrases ‘leaden metal’ and ‘heavy metal,’ along with the periodic table of elements’ neighborhood where they derived from or resided, clocked in a lot more time-share space in my day-to-day mind than any old Steppenwolf hit song … [Humble Pie’s album, Safe as Yesterday Is ] was stiff, turgid, i.e. leaden in its lack of hard rock drummer “swing” (also known as cool drum rolls/parts). Since ‘heavy’ had been around for three whole years as the most common genre term, i.e. ‘heavy rock,’ hell yeah…why NOT insert the phrase ‘leaden-metal’ in between the ‘heavy’/’rock’ tandem? Flipped around, ‘metal-leaden’ must have looked catchier on paper…’heavy metal-leaden rock’…since that put the words ‘heavy’ and ‘metal’ into a tandem status just like on the elements table. Oh yeah, the Humble Pie album that I’d wasted my money on was complete shit, so throw in the ‘shit’ word too….’heavy metal-leaden shit-rock.’ shortened in the next/final paragraph to simply ‘heavy metal crap.’ (no hyphen)…Maybe the leaden part (as pejorative describing the dreadful Humble Pie rhythm section) was just implied.”

The Steppenwolf song he refers to is of course the classic early 1968 hit song “Born to Be Wild” which includes the lyric, “heavy metal thunder”. However, in the context of the lyrics, it attempts to capture the image of a motorcycle or car engine. Indeed, Led Zeppelin would use the term in their 1975 song “Trampled Underfoot”: “Check that heavy metal underneath your hood.” But perhaps Robert Plant’s usage in this case also implied innuendo as the song’s refrain repeats, “Talkin’ ‘bout love, talkin’ ‘bout love” and the lyrics go further in suggestiveness with the line, “I’m so glad I took a look inside your showroom doors”. Exactly what is this hood he looked underneath and what are those showroom doors?

Whatever image Robert Plant was trying to imply with his use of the musical term he reviled, he was not talkin’ ‘bout heavy metal music. And neither were Steppenwolf, who were, by the way, not the first to use the term in a musical context. In 1967, the British avant-guard outfit Hapshash and the Coloured Coat used the term in their album title Featuring The Human Host and the Heavy Metal Kids. Here, though, the term seems to reference a novel by William Burroughs, which we will consider shortly.

Who Was On First?

So, was Mike Saunders then the first to use heavy metal to describe a style of music? As he states in the quote above, the term heavy had already been in use for three years, as in “heavy rock”. Weinstein’s paper delves deeper into the origins of the term and there is more than one critic who demands credit for inventing descriptive moniker. Blue Oyster Cult manager and lyricist, Sandy Pearlman, claims that he came up with the term originally, again citing the Periodic Table of the Elements as the source for the inspiration. In a review he wrote in Crawdaddy! About The Notorious Byrd Brothers album, Pearlman claims he used the term “heavy metal” to describe “the incredible complexity of the distortion”.

Once again, “heavy metal” becomes synonymous with distortion and noise; however, the review was on the website ByrdWatcher: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles, and there was no mention of “heavy metal”. Site manager Tim Conners gives Lester Bangs credit for inventing the term, remarking that he lifted it from a William Burroughs’ book series that included a character called “Uranian Willy The Heavy Metal Kid”. Uranian Willy had no association with any style of music but instead the planet Uranus and its drug-addicted inhabitants. But Bangs makes no use of the term in his reviews or other writing until later on in the seventies, after the term had come into frequent usage.

Still, Pearlman used the word “metal” as early as 1967 when writing about the Rolling Stones’ album Got Live If You Want It. Weinstein observes that “metal” or “metallic” was used eight times in the first eight sentences, although the term is used to describe the sound of the music rather than a style of music.

Another contender, which is also mentioned in the Wikipedia entry for “heavy metal”, is a 1968 review published in Rolling Stone and written by Barry Gifford. He writes of musician Mike Bloomfield that his new album is “the New Soul Music, the synthesis of White Blues and Heavy Metal rock”. The author later clarified the intention of his use of “heavy metal” as a means to describe the sound of the band, and the music bears no resemblance to what later became known as heavy metal. Still again in 1968, the terms “heavy” and “metallic” were used in a New York Times review of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s album Axis: Bold as Love, where author Jim Miller wrote, “Jimi Hendrix sounds like a junk heap, very heavy and metallic loud”. Once again, “heavy” and “metal(lic)” are used to describe the sound of the music, and while Jimi Hendrix, Mike Bloomfield, and The Rolling Stones all have quite distinctly different sounds to their music, we are reminded once again in the Hendrix review at least that “heavy metal” could be used in criticism of the music’s sound. Another description used elsewhere described Hendrix’s music as, “like listening to heavy metal falling from the sky”.

Quite interesting as we get closer to the birth of the term to describe the genre of loud and metallic heavy rock, Weinstein’s paper reveals yet another usage of “heavy metal” prior to the Mike Saunders’ penned review. The surprise is that the review which included the term was written by none other than Lester Bangs, this time in a 1970 review of The Guess Who’s album, Canned Wheat. Bangs writes about the band, “They’re quite refreshing in the wake of all the heavy metal robots of the year past”. The term here describes a number of bands who have been churning out monotonous and uncreative music but not a genre of music. Still, it’s not flattering to those bands.

Heavy? Downer?

Alternatively, heavy rock, as Saunders pointed out, was already being used to describe the music of bands like Cream and Blue Cheer in the late sixties and later for Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. “Heavy” on its own, though, implied no derision, and the term had already been used by the Beats from jazz and co-opted by the sixties counter-culture youth, where it meant “deep”, “meaningful”, and even something that was good. It could also refer to something profound and serious. But by the time it was used for Black Sabbath’s music, it no doubt was applied to the sound of the heavy (i.e. low toned) guitars, the low bass, and the crushing drums.

Downer rock was yet another term used to describe music whose song lyrics dealt with the unpleasantness of reality with its wars, political corruption, environmental destruction, crime and punishment, substance abuse, mental illnesses, and death. The facts that were being addressed in the lyrics of bands like Black Sabbath (“War Pigs”, “Children of the Grave”, “Hand of Doom”), Grand Funk (“Paranoid”, “Can’t Be Too Long”), and Bloodrock (“Wicked Truth”, “DOA”) were the antipodes of the hippie idealisms of universal love and peace. Add to that the frequent use of depressant “downer” drugs by some fans of the music and a certain appropriateness of the term becomes recognizable. Indeed, Lester Bangs made more ready use of “downer rock” to describe the musical style of Black Sabbath than he did “heavy metal”. In a 1972 issue of Creem he described a Black Sabbath concert like this:

“The audience, searching endlessly both for bone-rattling sound and someone to put the present social and psychic traumas in perspective, found both in Black Sabbath … they possessed a dark vision of society and the human soul borrowed from black magic and Christian myth; they cut straight to the teen heart of darkness with obsessive, crushing blocks of sound and “words that go right to your sorrow, words that go ‘Ain’t no tomorrow,’” as Ozzy sang in “Warning” on their first album. The critics…responded almost as one by damning it as “downer music.” Since much of it did lack the unquenchable adrenaline imperatives of its precedents and one look around a rock concert hall was enough to tell you where the Psychedelic Revolution had led, the charge seemed worth considering.”

Ying and Yan

Robert Plant, in the People Weekly article briefly quoted at the beginning of this post, laments that people didn’t get the other side of Led Zeppelin, the softer and subtler parts. That Led Zeppelin should include opposite extremes of “heavy” and “light” is spelled out right in the name “lead”, a heavy metal, and “zeppelin”, an airship. Though the name was suggested in mockery by either Keith Moon or Pete Townshend (depending on your source) in a comment stating that Jimmy Page’s new band would go down like a lead zeppelin, it couldn’t have been more appropriate for the music the band would go on to create. Iron Butterfly chose their name exactly for the purpose of capturing the essence of their music, which included both heavy and light and beautiful sounds. One could consider this “heavy” and “light” connotation further by applying it to other bands such as Vanilla (light) Fudge (dark), Black (dark, unknown) Sabbath (holy day), and Judas (deceiver of Christ) Priest (religious leader and pious man). Certainly, each of these bands chose their name from other inspirations, yet the concept of dichotomies remains.

Loud, Noisy, Toxic, and Metallic – A Product of Industrial Heartlands

In the end, is “heavy metal” such a derogatory term? Weinstein writes in her conclusion that the term “showed a set of characteristics and sensibility”. Would it have included the same set of bands had it been called “downer rock” or “heavy rock”, or that more generic term “hard rock”? As we saw, both terms “heavy” and “metal” were already employed to describe the sound of the music. Mike Saunders’ brilliant spur of creative writing thought to put both terms together as an adjective for the sound of a musical style. Another source noted that the acceptance of the term for the genre rests in its appropriateness in defining how listeners interpret the music. The same could be said for “punk rock” or “progressive rock”. The name implies something about the music.

Looking to The Phrase Finder at phrases.org.uk, under the entry The Meaning and Origin of the Expression Heavy Metal, we find once again the connotation of “heavy” with “serious” or “profound”. The entry then points out the common usage of metals in band names, such as Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, Iron Maiden, and Metallica (the list of bands that used “iron” in their names can go on). Also, the toxic nature of heavy metals lends its image to the musical style (once more, unflattering to some musicians). Another interesting point is that some of the earliest bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Judas Priest hailed from industrial Birmingham, and you can add to that all the proto-punk and early metal bands like Stooges and Grand Funk who emerged out of the industrial heartland of the U.S. in Michigan. No wonder Rush’s “Working Man” resonated so strongly with the industrial working class!

Perhaps, like the birth of the music itself, the term “heavy metal” has a number of sign posts leading up to its invention. Just as heavy metal music was the product of several years of distorted and energetic guitar riff rock, psychedelic experimentation, and a return to the blues with heavier electric music, so the term “heavy metal” comes from nearly a decade of the appearance of the words being used to describe serious and profound matters and loud distorted guitar rock music. As most will agree, though, the music we call heavy metal today has evolved and progressed a long way from its first appearance.

The Year of Extreme Metal

We are three quarters of the way into 2017 and this is only my third post of the year. It’s not because I haven’t been exploring music very much this year. On the contrary, I have bitten into to something larger than almost anything I took on in previous years, with the one exception being my conscious entrance into the world of progressive rock in 2012. I emphasize “conscious” because almost since I began exploring music in the early eighties I had been adding various albums to my collection that fall under the progressive umbrella. I simply wasn’t aware that the music was referred to as “progressive”.

Over the decades, I have generally been into either a band or a sub-genre. In 1986 I was into Nazareth. From 1989 to 1992 I was largely into various styles of Christian rock and metal. For many years, I followed the Canadian power pop rock band, Sloan and other Canadian artists. Then I was looking into Japanese bands. The I got back into Scorpions and after that once more into Deep Purple. The journey I have been making has always kept me exploring new avennues.

This year started out safely enough. I was determined to make 2017 the year I did not spend too much money on music. Early on I became interested in Dream Theater and bought five more albums, and decided to finish off my Opeth collection, purchasing four more albums. For the next eight weeks I placed no orders and only looked forward to a few new releases coming up in the early summer.

But with Opeth I realized that I was at last ready to delve into death metal. Back in the eighties I had loved thrash metal and was a fan of other extreme bands such as Bathory, Kreator, and Celtic Frost. By the time death metal truly became its own sub-genre of metal, however, I was moving away into sixties and seventies proto-metal and early hard rock. I didn’t appreciate the deathly gutteral growls and roars. Strangely enough, as heavy metal whethered the grunge scene and sprouted new branches like nu metal and groove metal, I was not particularly interested. Pantera, Disturbed, and whatever else my metal-loving friend was buying, did not grab me. I liked Marylin Manson a bit; Nine Inch Nails were interesting, but Rob Zombie, Fear Factory, Korn, and System of a Down just didn’t click. Slipknot? They were okay, I guess. As I had no connection with extreme metal bands anymore, I didn’t know what was happening. I just stopped buying Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer albums and enjoyed the classics from the eighties.

So, Opeth was a kind of gateway drug for me, but I had already been primed by Devin Townsend and Strapping Young Lad, and some other bands like Baroness, Mastodon and Suspyre, ready for more aggressive, more brutal, and more compelx music.

Since around May of this year then, I have been exploring the world’s of death metal, Norwegian black metal, death doom metal, a little industrial, thrash and post-metal, and some progressive bands tinkering with metalcore or djent. I check out playlists on YouTube such as “The Best 50 Old School Death Metal Albums (part 1)” or “Top 50 Greatest Thrash Metal Albums of All Time” or “Top 10 Norwegian Black Metal Albums“. The lists go on and on.

Another big help has been Banger TV’s program, “Lock Horns“, which has introduced me to key bands and albums in various branches on the heavy metal tree. Some bands and albums will be mentioned in my YouTube travels two, three or even more times, and it’s those that I often decide to check out, first listening on YouTube to see if I might like them, and then placing the choosen albums in my Amazon cart and putting them on standby. Naturally, not only has my cart reached nearly a hundred albums but I have already brought home about sixty this year. The good thing is that extreme metal albums are often quite a bit cheaper than prog albums, and my guess the reason is because death metal albums –  the older ones anyway – are usually about 35 minutes long as opposed to prog albums which easily go over 65 minutes, sometimes even being double albums.

Choosing albums is not always easy either. Essential albums like Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness, Cynic’s Focus, or Darkthrone’s Under a Blazing Northern Sky are easy enough; however, when it comes to bands it’s a bigger challenge. Do I choose the essential album, the debut, a recent release, or listen to various samples and choose the one I think sounds best? For Immolation I chose the debut, Dawn of Possession because it came up two or three times on these compilation videos. But it was the most expensive album in their catalogue! For Obituary I chose the album that I thought sounded best and ended up with World Demise, not one of their higher rated albums and not an easy album to get a hold of either (I got a used copy of the CD in near-mint condition but the case and booklet look awful). For Nile I chose the more recent Those Whom the Gods Detest and was duely impressed; however my next purchase of Annihilation of the Wicked didn’t thrill me as much, possibly due to a muddier production. And then there was Vader’s Revelations, one of the cheaper albums but one that got me interested in the band. Two more albums were recently purchased but again, not the same thrill level.

The quest for albums that totally impress me continues.

Yes, I have had a lot I wanted to write about this year. I read the biography of Dream Theater and wanted to write a post. I had things to say about Opeth’s interesting career. More recently, I am interested in just how it was that so many subgenres of extreme metal developed in the eighties and early nineties and also how heavy metal continues to evolve and develop new sounds, playing and song writing styles, and new sub-genres.

But I am still on this new leg of my journey. I am still watching, listening, reading and learning. It is now October and I usually try to wrap up my purchasing for the year by this month. Orders in November can become delayed and arrive just before or during my winter holidays when I have no time to listen to music. I’m considering the last ten albums to order. Should I make it twelve albums? Can I go until January with 90 albums in my Amazon shopping cart and a few more in my Discogs cart without ordering anything? If I watch a video that introduces an important, essential album, can I summon the willpower to just leave it until next year? More importantly, can I afford to keep buying so many CDs?

Music is far too attractive to a mind like mine. But I am loving this part of my journey into extreme heavy metal.

Explosion of Metal Subgenres in the 80’s

I entered my teens when heavy metal became a household word. Back in 1983/84, heavy metal was the music of choice among my friends. We had such a choice, too. There were Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and the old boys, Black Sabbath. Then there were the hits bands like Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, and Motley Crue. There were the German bands: Scorpions and Accept. And then there were all the bands who managed to squeak a video on the late night video programs, bands such as Killer Dwarfs, Krokus, Kick Axe, and so on.

Helix

Helix

Back in those days, heavy metal was not neatly divided into various sub-genres as it is today. Van Halen, Blue Oyster Cult, Motorhead, Venom, Saxon, Helix, and even AC/DC all fell under the metal banner. If your music was loud, hard, heavy, pounding, fist-pumping, head-banging rock, that was enough. Headpins “Turn It Loud” was metal enough. Santers made it in the heavy metal pages. Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, KISS, and the list goes on. These days metal scholars and fans are much more critical and discerning about what gets called metal and what is hard rock. Metal itself has splintered into so many subgenres, and I would say that the 1980’s were responsible for this rapid branching of the metal tree.

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Exodus (photo from Full In Bloom Music)

The first subgenre I heard about was thrash metal. While the Los Angeles metal scene (which gave us what is now referred to as glam metal or hair metal) was producing wild and colourful bands like Ratt, Poison, Cinderella, and so on), metal purists who loved Judas Priest, Motorhead, and Venom and who also liked hardcore punk, decided to go against the grain and emphasis speed and aggression over party rock and cosmetics. The leaders here in the 1983 to 1987 period were Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Testament, Exodus, Death Angel, Violence, and a host of others. The music became not only faster but, as in the case of some bands, it also became more technical.

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Anvil

Around this same period, specifically 1982 to 1984, three other countries also saw movements toward extreme metal. In Toronto, Canada there was a concurrent metal movement that was initiated by the band Anvil. Anvil are often seen as the link between traditional heavy metal (Judas Priest, etc.) and thrash metal. But Anvil were not alone. Sacrifice, Slaughter, Razor, and Exciter were also part of this speedier and more aggressive scene. The Canadian label Banzai began stamping albums with a speed metal logo. Quebecers, Voivod, also earned this label, as did some European bands like Destruction. Speed metal today is recognized as being different from thrash metal and also power metal in that it is a little looser, and bit more biker-ish. As it was described on Banger Lock Horns (44:55 to 45:15 in the video), it’s like power metal but with a five-o’clock shadow.

Meanwhile, across the pond in England, the hardcore punk scene was taking an interest in metal. Going the opposite route from American thrash metal bands, who added hardcore to metal, British grindcore bands added metal to hardcore. By the latter half of the 80’s, you had two similar metal scenes with different roots.

Then there was Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden. Inspired by the music of Judas Priest, Motorhead, Black Sabbath, and Venom, new bands emerged in these three countries that would prove to be very influential in the development of new emerging subgenres. In Germany, Kreator focused on violence and aggressive, heavy music. Though similar to thrash metal music, Kreator’s sound was more evilly intense, more threatening, the vocals gruffer and growlier. Switzerland produced first Hellhammer which evolved into Celtic Frost. Here was a band that combined the speed of thrash metal with the slow and heavy riffs of doom metal and featured a vocalist who could growl and roar even lower and more ominously than Motorhead’s Lemmy or Venom’s Chronos. Finally, up in Sweden, a young Tomas Forsberg created Bathory, a band which focused on Satanic lyrical themes and, like others, combined speed and heaviness. Most outstanding was Forsberg’s vocal style: a back-of-the-throat, rattling, croak that could resemble a wicked witch singing. Though they were not yet fully developed, the subgenres of death and black metal were gestating amid the sounds of these bands.

Back in the U.S.A., two important bands were taking thrash metal in a new direction. Possessed from California released “Seven Churches” in 1985. The music was thrash-based, but Jeff Becerra’s deep, roaring, guttural vocals and the band’s Satanic themes took thrash metal as Slayer had conceived it into darker territory, if that were possible. Across the continent in Florida, Chuck Schuldiner was putting together Death and the first album, “Scream Bloody Gore” was released in 1987. While thrash metal lyrics were more about violence and war, death metal focused on gore and the occult. The American death metal scene produced bands like Morbid Angel, Obituary, and Autopsy in the late eighties, and by the early nineties the scene had fully grown, particularly along the East Coast and up into Quebec with bands like Cannibal Corpse, Immolation, Malevolent Creation, and Gorguts.

darkthrone

Darkthrone – Black metal from Norway

By the late eighties, both Norway and Sweden had picked up on the sounds of black metal and a second generation was born. Though both countries would contribute, it was basically Norwegian bands that moved from death metal over to the black metal scene, while in Sweden death metal became the more popular.

Taking a cue from as far back as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, power metal was yet another subgenre to emerge from the eighties metal scene. Ronnie James Dio, who had sung with Rainbow in the seventies, took the knights and dragons theme further in the mid-eighties on his “Sacred Heart” album (the tour featured a towering dragon on stage).

Virgin Steele

Virgin Steele

Virgin Steele in New York also moved from a trad metal approach into power metal. As someone on Banger TV said, power metal is trad metal but with louder, bigger, more over-the-top, with bolder melodies and an almost symphonic approach to music themes. It’s totally conceivable that symphonic metal developed from a combination of power metal and prog metal. The vocal style is usually more operatic, and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford can be seen as creating the blueprint. Manowar, Helloween, and Blind Guardian are recognized as early true power metal bands; however, elements of power metal can be found in the music and also the lyrical themes of bands like Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Uli Jon Roth era Scorpions, and Accept.

While it seems a natural course for heavy metal music to become more aggressive, more technical, darker, faster, and heavier, two other subgenres that emerged from in the eighties were looking to travel with their guitars down slightly different paths. Perhaps the older of the two would be progressive metal. The instigator would likely be Iron Maiden. Bassist and founding member Steve Harris was a fan of progressive rock bands of the seventies and right from the debut album in 1980, Iron Maiden proved there were more than just a band of three to four minute songs. They included instrumental sections that were not just dedicated to guitar pyrotechnics and even instrumental tracks. Iron Maiden was clearly an influence on two important American bands now associated with the development of progressive metal: Fates Warning and Queensryche. Add to that Crimson Glory and Watchtower and you have four of the earliest prog metal bands.

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Queensryche

Following the lead of Iron Maiden, these bands endeavored to write music that had complex instrumental parts, or danced around odd time signatures. Lyrics were often more intellectual and socio/political. The star child of progressive metal would be born in the eighties but not stamp its mark on the subgenre until 1992. Dream Theater was the band that seemed to define what progressive metal should be about, and yet the desire to take metal into more progressive territory was already spreading to the thrash and speed metal scene in 1986/87 as Metallica introduced longer songs with multi-part musical themes on “Master of Puppets” and “…And Justice for All” and Voivod created their own form of space sci-fi prog metal, culminating in the classic album “Nothingface” in 1989.

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Godflesh

The other new and also more experimental subgenre of metal was industrial metal. Musicians combined metal’s heaviness and aggression with techno and electronica, giving birth to a new underground movement. Ministry, Godflesh and others both in the U.S. and overseas in Europe (Germany’s KMFDM) kicked off the first generation of industrial metal in the latter half of the eighties and the movement continued into the nineties, gaining a second momentum by the middle of the decade.

One other important subgenre that came into its own in the eighties would be doom metal. Originally born in the sound of Black Sabbath in late 1969, bands such as Saint Vitus and Pentagram (who were actually active concurrently with Sabbath in their heyday) emphasized slow and heavy riffs and particularly Saint Vitus sought to recreate that early seventies sound. As the eighties progressed, some bands combined the speed and deep guttural vocals of death metal with the slow and heavy riffs of doom metal, and thus the death/doom subgenre was also born. Autopsy were one band that emerged from the Florida death metal scene who liked to slow down at times and get heavy. Meanwhile back in England, My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost also emphasized deep, growling vocals and slow heavy riffs. Interestingly enough, the European bands would go on into new directions now labeled gothic metal and post metal, as would many bands from the black metal scene.

It’s not uncommon to hear people criticize the 80’s for a lot of crimes against pop music and rock. However, I find it really interesting to see how heavy metal experienced an explosion of growth in subgenre branches. We saw thrash metal, speed metal, grindcore, black metal, death metal, progressive metal, industrial metal, doom metal, and death doom all emerge from the heavy metal tree. Now we recognize traditional metal, hair or glam metal, and hard rock as the three most popular forms of heavy music in the eighties. But in the underground, so much more was happening.

2016 – Favourite Music Acquired This Year

The year is coming to an end and what a year it has been. In the news there have been so many high profile deaths and many others of lesser fame yet still tragic losses to the music world. On the bright side, this is the year that I made a number of new musician friends whose music careers have been taking off or climbing steadily higher.

Since we are at the end of another year, it is time for me to post where my journey in music exploration has taken me this year. In some ways the year started out as usual. Orders placed at the end of 2015 were brought home in early January and by February I was checking out the top albums of 2015 on Prog Archives and seeing which ones I thought would be worth ordering. By spring I was back into music history, topping off my Canadian 70’s hard rock and metal and my 60’s garage band collection. Then I discovered the progressive music of Quebec in the 70’s and brought home over a dozen albums from those exciting days. There was a brief period of Slayer and Megadeth classics, and then by the end of the summer I was checking a few more recent prog albums before launching into a 2016 release festa. In fact, I ordered more new releases this year than any other year since the mid-eighties when I was rapaciously following everything metal.

Here are a few lists of songs and albums that I really enjoyed.

Albums of 2016

img_121810. Strategies by Jesus Munoz – Quite a surprise this one. Jesus Munoz is a Spanish amateur guitarist who recorded an album’s worth of music in 2015 and then released it with two additional tracks and a real drummer in 2016. His playing style reminds me of a cross between Steve Howe and Steve Morse. “The Limpid Green” is the track that stuck in my head the most, though nearly every track on the album is really great.

9. Distance by Structural Disorder – I heard about this band through the Facebook page, Progressive Rock Fanatics. The fact that they use an accordion as a lead instrument but make it sound like a synthesizer for most songs intrigued me. I pledged money toward their new album and I was not disappointed. Progressive metal with lots of atmosphere and beautiful slower parts included, I enjoyed listening to this several times before reviewing it.

8. The Perfect Map by Elephants of Scotland – An album that was getting some attention during the end of the summer, I picked it up in the fall and was impressed. Though the vocals need a little more something, the music is top notch modern prog.

7. The Clockwork Fable by Gandalf’s Fist – Three discs! And a concept album! What made this one stand out was not so much the great music but the narrative that it went with. While most narratives are told in the lyrics, this album has a cast of voice actors and comes across as a radio play with musical interludes. For the first two listens, I was more interested in the story than the songs!

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6. Land of Blue Echoes by Marco Ragni – An excellent psychedelic / space rock inspired album of progressive music. Marco released a new album a few months later, “California” which is also very good. It’s thanks to this album that I got to know guitarist Peter Matuchniak of Gekko Projekt.

5. Silence Between Sounds by Karmamoi – An Italian band that don’t sound like RPI, Karmamoi’s album will keep you guessing where each track will take you. Four female singers contribute to the vocals. Great music and singing!

4. Holophinium by KariBow – A perfect blend of melodic rock and progressive rock. Oliver Rusing’s KariBow has been a personal project for nearly 20 years. “Holophinium” was his big leap into having a band and including several guest musicians. He also rereleased an older album, “Man of Rust” in the fall.

3. Overwrite the Sin by Maglev – Another almost one-man-band, Joost Maglev’s first full-length progressive rock album is a treat. Five songs each with its own approach and expertly executed.

2. Evership – self-titled debut. What a class act this is! A perfect blend of modern prog with late seventies / early eighties progressive rock sounds. A real treat!

ctp

1. Hair in a G-String (Unfinished but Sweet) by Colin Tench Project. The subject of my previous post, let’s just say this is a blend of many styles, sounds terrific and is entertaining as well.

 

Favourite Songs of 2016 Purchases

fish-on-fridayOf course each of the above albums had songs that stuck in my head and demanded repeat plays, sometimes over the course of a week, sometimes coming back again and again. CTP’s “Part 4b”, Maglev’s “Judith”, Evership’s “Slow descent into Reality” and KariBow’s “Quantum Leap” were some of the songs that became favourites this year. But here are ten other songs from my 2016 purchases that were played well over a dozen times.

Orbit by Thundermug
Phasors on Stun by FM
Madman by Klaatu
Bloody Well Right by Supertramp (yes, I finally bought some Supertramp albums)
Back to the Stars by Rosenkreutz (one of the best 17-minute plus songs I’ve heard in a while)
A tout le monde by Megadeth
The Endless Knot by Haken
Tick-Tock by Fish on Friday
Meditations by Modern-Rock Ensemble
A ciel ouvert by Grandval

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Rock progressif Quebecois – 10 favourites
I wrote about the progressive rock of 1970’s Quebec in a previous post. Here are some favourite tracks.

En pleine face by Harmonium
Eclaircie by Et cetera
La marche des hommes by Morse Code (keyboard player Christian Simard passed away recently at age 67)
Vivre la mort by Pollen
Voisins (mon chum) by Vos Voisins
Les folleries by Maneige
Algebrique by Sloche
Agneau de Dieu by Dionysos
L’alarme a l’oeil by Contraction
Le chant du Guerrier by Octobre

coney-hatch-outa-handHere’s a list of five new favourites from the hard rock and metal of Canada of the late seventies through to the early nineties.

Turn It Loud by Headpins
Don’t Say Make Me by Coney Hatch
Too Much Carousing by Goddo
Under the Influence by Sven Gali
Metal on Metal by Anvil (such a classic)

nemo

 

Finally, I want to mention ten bands and artists that were mostly new to me whose albums impressed me enough to deserve their own list.

Cocoon by Tiger Moth Tales (Peter Jones)

Refuel by Rocket Scientists

The Road to Avalon by The Minstrel’s Ghost (Blake Carpenter)
Chapter One by Cell15 (Robert Scott Richardson)
Coma by Nemo
Ones & Zeros by 3rdegree
Who’s the Boss in the Factory by Karmakanic
Godspeed by Fish on Friday
The Ones I Condemn by Sacrifice (I’ve known about Sacrifice since the 80’s but this album really stands out)
Mood Swings by Harem Scarem

I want to close off with honourable mentions going to Peter Matuchniak’s solo work, GorMusik, Grandval, Yuka & Chronoship, Q65 (a Dutch garage rock band of the 60’s), and The Troggs (for some of their hard and heavy hitting music of the 60’s).

What is CTP?

Colin Tench Project

ctp

On September 30th of this year, Colin Tench released his long-awaited solo project album “Hair in a G-String (Sweet but Unfinished)”. I call it a solo project because he usually plays in a band called Corvus Stone where everyone contributes to the music creation; all four members come up with their own bits. Colin has played lead guitar on a few other album’s like “The Road to Avalon” by Blake Carpenter’s Minstrel’s Ghost, “The Road to Mingulay” by Andy John Bradford’s Ocean’s 5, and most recently on “Bridge Across Time” by Steve Gresswell’s Coalition (with Blake Carpenter). But this “Hair in a G-String” is a Colin Tench album, with all the music and much of the lyrics created by him.

No. Not quite. Let me correct that. The music was created by Mr. Tench but a rather lengthy list of people (25 I counted including Colin) contributed with some of them building on the music that was created while others – namely Phil Naro and Peter Jones – contributed lyrics to some tracks.

CTP for short (and not to be confused with the Christian Tolle Project) has culminated in an album that can best be described as entertaining and enjoyable. The music is varied and wonderfully composed, performed, and produced. Some of the lyrics are very clever and beautiful while others are quite amusing. It’s an album of progressive music but not in an exceptionally technical way nor in a grandiose fashion. It’s an album of melodic rock in a manner reminiscent of the classic days when melodic rock was a pop radio staple. Though the primary influences would seem to be Genesis, Queen, ELO, and even Santana, one can pick out some Pink Floyd and even a touch of Iron Maiden, plus as many other artists are you care to find. Rumours of both Sir George Martin and Spike Milligan being channeled on this album add to the intrigue. It’s an album of serious music (mostly) not to be taken too seriously (mostly).

The stories behind this album’s creation are interesting. It began way back around 2010/11. Colin had played in a band called BunChakeze (say bunch-of-keys) in the 80’s and they had recorded an album’s worth of material that was never released. After a 25-year hiatus from guitar playing, Colin got in touch with Pasi Koivu, a keyboard player and composer in Finland. Pasi recommended releasing the BunChakeze album. Around this time, Colin decided to pick up a guitar and see if he could still come up with something. What resulted was an instrumental piece that was comprised of some material from BunChakeze, some new ideas, and a little bit of stuff borrowed from elsewhere. The final composition was entitled, “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Screwed”. Shortly after, Pasi asked Colin to play guitar for a piece he was working on called, “Iron Pillows”. This collaboration was the beginning of Corvus Stone. The guitar instrumental was the beginning of CTP.

Colin became very occupied with chatrooms and through these he came in contact with several people who would become instrumental in his sudden and rapid career development: Sonia Mota (artist), Blake Carpenter (singer), Steve Gresswell (multi-instrumentalist and composer), Stef Flaming (multi-instrumentalist and composer and singer for Murky Red), Andres Guazzelli (composer), Andy John Bradford (folk singer and composer), Oliver Rusing (multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer) and several others too. From 2011 to 2015, Colin would not only go on to release two Corvus Stone albums and one album of remixed tracks and new tracks, but he would appear on a few other albums playing lead guitar and guest on a few more like KariBow’s “Holophinium”, United Progressive Fraternity’s “Fall in Love with the World”, Marco Ragni’s “Land of Blue Echoes”, and Grandval’s “A ciel ouvert”. During all of this, Colin had let singer Phil Naro (who appears on a few Corvus Stone songs) hear “Something Old…” and he took part of the track and recorded vocals with his own lyrics. This became the basis for “Can’t Have It Any Other Way”, the second track on “Hair in a G-String”.

After Corvus Stone “Unscrewed”, Colin decided to work on his solo project in earnest. “The Mad Yeti” was a demo that he had created earlier after buying a microphone called Yeti. This along with other working demos were available on Melodic Revolution Records’ web site. Colin picked up a piece he was working on called “Hair in a G-String” (a title inspired by “Air on a G-String”) and decided to see where he could take it. He also composed a piece called “The Sad Brazilian” which he put on YouTube. Meanwhile in Buffalo, U.S.A., Gordon Bennett, a fellow musician on the United Progressive Fraternity album, found Colin’s Brazilian and pilfered it. Gordo, a very talented guitarist in his own right, went ahead and added orchestral arrangements to the Brazilian and then sent the whole thing back to Colin with a “hope you don’t mind but…” type of a notice. Colin did not mind one bit. Gordo’s contribution had been to enhance the music rather than go over it. Colin was thrilled. Gordo was invited to join the project.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Steve Gresswell, who had provided orchestration for what was to become “Hair in a G-String part 1 (The Opening)”, was becoming busy with his latest recording project, Coalition’s new album “Bridge Across Time”. Gordo was put in charge of most of the rest of the orchestration to appear on the album. Other important names to appear were Phil Naro (vocals and lyrics on two tracks), Vic Tassone (drummer for Unified Past), Oliver Rusing on drums (Oliver commented that he was given the music and with no click track, he had to add his drums and percussion), Ian Beabout on flute for “Lisa’s Entrance Unplugged”, drummer Jay Theodore McGurrin, Petri Lindstrom on bass (Corvus Stone, Saturn Twilight, Progeland, Petri Lindstrom Project, etc.) and a host of others. The biggest addition to the album however had to be Peter Jones of Tiger Moth Tales and Red Bazar.

Peter Jones not only brought his talents as a vocalist and a multi-instrumentalist (he plays a clarinet and a saxophone solo on the album) but also as an improvisational mad man. Though Colin’s lyrics were at times zany enough, Peter was free to interpret them as he liked and add things when he felt inspired to do so. Thus we get the lines, “Put them together and what do you get?/ Goodety goodety good!” Peter also contributes a minion vocal break near the end.

Peter’s serious side can be heard on the first single, “And So Today”. He sings with passion and sentiment on this song about the passing of some of our musical heroes in this past year. It’s a beautiful and touching song.

The album became available on CD in early November and there are plans for a vinyl release of the “Hair in a G-String” parts, “The Sad Brazilian”, and “And So Today”. There is also a bonus track with the download that will not be on the CD and that is Gordo’s orchestral work on “Lisa’s Waltz with full orchestra”, a phenomenal piece on its own.

Currently ranking on the top of several prog lists including CD Baby and Prog Archives, the album received a favourable review in Prog Magazine as well. Colin will be the first to tell you though that this was indeed a band effort. Every single contribution helped make this album the success that it is.

Guitar Rock Explosion!

Several years before the birth of heavy metal, in a time that is now recognized as the beginnings of punk rock, there existed various styles of aggressive and energetic guitar rock. On the English side of the Atlantic, young musicians were plugging in to a rock and roll band format but playing African American blues. Other bands were into the Mod beat music scene. Then one day, Ray Davies heard the American garage rock classic song “Louis Louis” and decided to try to write his own riff rock number. The result was the 1964 hit “Girl You Really Got Me” and its sibling “All Day and All of the Night”. This in turn inspired Who guitarist Pete Townshend to write “Can’t Explain”. In the final months of 1964, a single American garage rock hit had inspired three English riff rock classics.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Ocean in the U.S. of A, garage rock bands who were busy tinkering with classic 50’s rock and roll, frat rock, and surf rock and turning it into proto-punk garage rock got a taste of the British Invasion. Beatles’ popularity aside, it was the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who (self-described purveyors of “maximum R&B!”) and The Yardbirds that intrigued many bands to take on the English renditions of American blues and give these songs a shot of their own juice. Thus as the American garage rock scene was building up to boiling over, many bands took a decided and guided turn into adding English R&B to their set lists.

A big kick to both sides came in 1965. Previously used by select artists as an effects device for an occasional song or instrumental track, the fuzz box gained overnight popularity when The Rolling Stones’ new single “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” with its fuzz-toned memorable riff hit the charts. Before 1965 was over, bands on both sides of the Atlantic were testing the capacities of their speakers with the alien buzzing of the fuzz box.

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Were they loud to compete with the Boeings? The Sonics from Tacoma, Washington.

On the American side, Tacoma Washington’s The Sonics were already well-versed in overdriven, over the top classic rock and roll covers, giving them an unbridled, feral injection of power. Their 1964 single “The Witch” loudly proclaimed what this band was capable of and fully intended on doing, which was to push the needle into the red as far as possible. Back in jolly old England, The Pretty Things were turning their R&B sound into something grittier and dirtier, a sound that matched the image the band was also earning for themselves. Ronnie Wood started up his first recording band, The Birds, a band that frequently put an emphasis on hard-hitting guitars. Their cover of “Leaving Here” in 1965 would later be covered by Motorhead for their debut single.

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The Pretty Things: making long hair for men trendy since 1965.

In 1965, The Yardbirds lost Eric Clapton but gained Jeff Beck. Beck’s contribution to the band would be a harder edged sound with frequent diversions from standard English R&B to something that permitted fuzz box experimentation and loud, resonating power chords. Their urgent and charging cover of Johnny Brunette’s cover of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” became an inspiration to future bands and was covered in the 70’s by Aerosmith and Motorhead.

The typical sound set up of bands at this time, regardless of their preferred style(s), was a four or five member band with drums, bass, vocals and then usually either two guitars – one clean rhythm and one lead guitar often employing fuzz tone – or a keyboard. The Music Machine and The Seeds, both of California, chose Farfisa organs while The Artwoods in the U.K. had a young Jon Lord on Hammond organ. Original songs were typically about unfaithful girls. Some bands experimented with a harder, more aggressive sound for some of their songs while others may have only ever recorded a song or two that even come close to the proto-punk, proto-metal arena. Australia’s The Easybeats – featuring George Young, older brother to Malcolm and Angus Young of AC/DC fame – hit a few upbeat guitar rockers but changed their sound with the times. Meanwhile Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds when he felt they were not truly dedicated to the blues after recording the chart-making “For Your Love”. Still, bands like The Sonics, The Seeds, and The Troggs caught attention exactly because they went for volume, grit and edge.

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They should have put the all of the taller guys in the back. Chicago’s The Shadows of Knight.

It was 1966 when this transatlantic breed of music hit its undisputed peak. From the American garage rock perspective, many bands began at last to release albums. The Remains released their one and only album, The Shadows of Knight released two long-players that year, and The Music Machine released an album in December. That last band deserve mention in particular because they combined the garage rock sound with the emerging psychedelic rock sound. They dressed all in black and dyed their hair black, down-tuned their instruments a semi-tone and built their own fuzz box. While their teen angst song “Talk Talk” became their one big hit, the band recorded mostly mature and intelligent songs about various topics such as women’s liberation, food waste, and environmental abuse. A good number of their songs feature heavy, fuzzed out guitar and leader Sean Bonniwell’s powerful, and at times acerbic vocals.

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Making black the new black: The Music Machine

Another band that was about to blow the music apart but whose candle was snuffed out on the brink of stardom was California’s The Misunderstood. Originally a band chiefly inspired by The Yardbirds, The Misunderstood gained good fortune at each time their first two guitarists had to leave for the draft. The first time, they gained steal lap guitarist Glenn Campbell and the second time they gained English lead guitarist Tony Hill, who later formed the progressive heavy rock band High Tide. The band were in London, struggling to get a record deal when Hill joined and the chemistry between him and singer Rick Brown buzzed so well that they wrote out a song on the same day. Their rare six-track recording in London combined blues-inspired rock with a heavy flower power sound that was unlike anything in their day. No one would come close to that sound until at least 1968. Unfortunately for them and us, Brown was drafted and the band collapsed.

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Taking the long hair thing one step further: Q65 of the Netherlands

While garage rock was chiefly an American (and also Canadian) phenomenon and R&B had found a new sound in English rock bands, this music was not limited to two or three countries. There was a kind of zeitgeist that inspired teens and twenty-somethings around the world to try to play this more aggressive style of guitar rock. From Iceland to the Netherlands, from Australia and to Japan, fuzz-toned guitar rockers were cropping up everywhere. Some followed the garage rock sound, others went for the English R&B sound. Still others fused the emerging psychedelic sound into their songs. Not everyone was going for the level of intensity that The Sonics were and not everyone was trying to be the baddest boys on the block. For most bands, the pursuit of the chart-topping single was still paramount because it would mean the record company would be happy and there would be money to allow the bands to record more music. However, the desire to play harder, louder, heavier, and with more energy was made apparent in songs like “Louis Louis” as covered by The Sonics or The Troggs, The Yardbirds “I Ain’t Done Wrong”, Q65’s “Cry in the Night”, or Guess Who’s “It’s My Pride”.

Yardbirds_including_Page

The Yardbirds once boasted having Jeff Beck and Jimmie Page in the band.

The band who best brought heavy to a new definition had to have been Cream. Though their debut album in 1966 was essentially a blues album, the whole sound of the album was unlike anything that had gone before it. Mostly notably, “Spoonful” and “Toad” included guitar chords that were heavy enough to blow everything else out of the water until Blue Cheer’s “Summertime Blues” cover or Iron Butterfly’s “Iron Butterfly Theme” both released in January of 1968.

By 1966 the elements that would distinguish the future path differences between punk rock and heavy metal were already cropping up. Psychedelic music and progressive rock meant that bands who played songs constructed by simple three-chord riffs could now begin experimenting more with song structure, styles, and sound. Most of these mid-sixties rockers are associated with the proto-punk scene namely due to their rawness and simple, energetic, often angst-filled songs. Nevertheless, from a heavy metal perspective, energetic, guitar rock with guitar distortion, lead guitar solos, and driving riffs are what made heavy metal recognizable. Plenty of elements exist here among the proto-punk files.

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Eddie Philips of The Creation in 1966: “Hey, Jimmie Page! I’ve got an idea. A bowed guitar!”

The final glory year was 1967. British R&B and Mod beat had given way to freakbeat, a kind of aggressive guitar rock style that strove for catchy vocal melodies. The Creation, The Action and The Attack managed to find degrees of chart success but soon after faced a critical turning point in the sound and of popular music. The Creation folded; The Action recorded a album’s worth of songs in a new style which was not released until decades later; and The Attack attempted to move toward a heavier British psychedelic sound before disbanding with guitarist Jon Cann then forming the early heavy progressive band Andromeda.

The+Litter

The Litter, a decent bunch o’ lads

Psychedelic rock, acid rock, and flower power were upsetting the garage rock scene in the U.S. Short, three-chord rockers about cheating girlfriends were no longer in vogue by 1967. Some bands like The Litter and The Amboy Dukes (the Ted Nugent-fronted version) released their debuts that year with decent success; however, by ’68 their styles were changing with the times. Bands the world over, in fact, were trying out new approaches that included more acoustic tracks, adding strings, more experimental and art rock styles, catchy pop rock and bubblegum songs aiming for the charts, and anything else that could hopefully ensure their survival in a rapidly changing popular music scene.

Above all of these changes in popular music was the appearance of Jimi Hendrix on the scene. Guitar playing was never the same afterward. There was simply so much more potential in electric guitar playing. By 1968, bands like Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, and Jefferson Airplane were bringing a completely different kind of guitar rock to the scene. For those earlier bands that survived, 1969 vindicated their persistence. Heavy blues rock, a new more evolved but still raw and aggressive garage rock, and the first generation of heavy metal music emerged from the other end of the peak psychedelic years. Hard and heavy guitar rock had a new sound.

Now, it’s interesting to look back to those years from late 1963 to 1967 when English R&B and American garage rock cross-pollinated and gave us often hard-hitting and testosterone-fueled rock that has earned the title of proto-punk but also holds many of the fundamental elements of heavy metal.