Progressive Aggressive

Essays on Heavy Metal #3 – The Prog and Punk Connection

Cream, The Yardbirds, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin… No one contests the blues roots of heavy metal. It was the arrival of the blues in rock and roll Britain that inspired many young British musicians to play blues in a rock band format, and as guitarists experimented more with guitar playing techniques and the fuzz box became prevalent, the music got louder and heavier, which in turn meant that drummers and vocalists had to be louder, too. When the American heavy metal scene really took off in 1969, bands like Grand Funk Railroad, Bloodrock and Sir Lord Baltimore were also following a blues format, having been inspired by their British predecessors. Of course, the blues in rock had already been a trend in the States as many garage rock bands of the mid-sixties had caught on to the British scene and began doing covers of British bands’ covers of African American blues.

But even while heavy metal’s roots are deep in the blues, the genre also shares a lot in common with two very different genres of rock: progressive rock and punk rock.

The Aggressive Side

Some would say that one of the earliest blue prints for a heavy metal song would be “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks. Couple that with “All Day and All of the Night” and we can see how these two songs serve as templates for heavy metal. Both feature distorted guitar riffs, hard-hitting percussion, wild lead guitar solos, and vocals that build in intensity as the music rises toward the chorus. It’s no surprise to see “You Really Got Me” was covered in 1972 by Canadian heavy rockers Thundermug and again in 1978 by Van Halen, who gave the song a new shot at the charts.

However, there are those who point out the simplicity and raw aggressive nature of the songs to be more akin to punk rock. Indeed, in writing “You Really Got Me”, The Kinks had taken inspiration from the American garage rock scene, particularly the hit “Louis Louis”. The Wikipedia article on the song says, “Ray Davies has stated that he wrote the group’s first hit ‘You Really Got Me’ while trying to work out the chords of ‘Louis Louis’”. As the American garage rock scene expanded, many bands would go on to inspire future punk rock bands. The Shadows of Knight, MC5, The Music Machine, The Sonics, The Seeds and many other bands employed fuzz tone and pushed many of their songs in a more aggressive and energetic direction, and because of the relative simplicity of the songs, they were easily picked up by future punk rock bands who had a great distaste for the technical complexity of progressive rock or the doom and despair of ponderous heavy metal tunes. That punk and metal share a common origin can been seen in lists of proto-metal albums from 1969/70 which frequently include MC5 and The Stooges, two bands whose take on aggressive guitar rock are closer to punk than metal.

When punk rock arose in New York and London in the mid-seventies, it threatened to make both metal and prog redundant. Heavy metal was supposed on the verge of death in 1978, and even as new artists such as Van Halen brought a new sound and new life to the genre, battles between punk and metal fans ensued as author Steve Waksman describes in his book, “This Ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk.” Waksman expounds on a reader letter exchange battle in a music magazine where metalheads and punk rockers each denounce the other’s music preference, try to prove, among many other things, whose music style best represents masculinity with one punker decrying Van Halen front man David Lee Roth as no match for Joey Ramone.

In spite of the fan disputes, heavy metal and punk musicians were to borrow from each other, the first example being the integrated punk sound in many New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands and soon after in both American thrash metal and British grindcore. In the eighties, bands in both genres would crossover and back. As heavy metal continued to splinter into subgenres in the nineties, many such “core” styles (metalcore, deathcore, mathcore, etc.) would emerge, where “core” meant the combining of hardcore punk with a metal approach.

The Progressive Side

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we find progressive rock. Known for extravagant and lengthy compositions inspired by classical and jazz music, progressive rock blossomed in the early seventies around the same time as the first wave of heavy metal. Prog can trace its roots back to the mid-sixties with bands like Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys who were making use of the studio to create music to be enjoyed on record first as opposed to the usual approach of recording songs that the groups already were performing live. By using the studio to create songs, artists had the freedom to experiment with and devise studio techniques for achieving realizing their musical conceptions. Sounds effects, exotic instruments, backwards recordings, modification of instrument sounds, and many other things became possible, thus opening up doors for a new approach to composing popular music.

During the peak psychedelic years of 67/68, longer compositions and the use of fuzz tone became part of the nascent prog scene arsenal. Looking at bands that are considered proto-prog, it’s not surprising to see proto-metal bands on the same list. Iron Butterfly and Vanilla Fudge both played heavy rock with guitar distortion but also wrote songs that expanded the standard rock song format into new dimensions.

It was, however, King Crimson, whose 1969 breakout song “21st Century Schizoid Man” would break the doors open for prog rock. Interestingly, while this song and King Crimson are considered pinnacles of prog rock excellence, the song has also been covered by hard rock and metal bands like April Wine and Voivod, and King Crimson easily hold a place on proto-metal and heavy seventies lists.

James M. Curtis writes this about metal and prog in his book “Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music and Society, 1954-1984”:

“Heavy metal also has significant affinities with art rock. Both styles came from England and peacefully coexisted at first. In 1970, Black Sabbath and Yes were sharing the same bill at venues like Cardiff Arts Centre Project. In the British Context, it seemed perfectly reasonable for Deep Purple to put out a record called Concerto for Group and Orchestra. After all, their lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had had classical training; he once said that he used a Bach chord progression on the ‘Highway Star’ solo on Machine Head.”

Deep Purple are an excellent example of the connection between heavy metal and progressive rock. The band’s first three albums followed a Vanilla Fudge approach of combining a loud heavy rock guitar playing style with plenty of stunning leads with a Hammond organ (whose player, Jon Lord, was also classically trained and went on to compose several classical-type albums) and rearranging popular songs into more extravagant pieces. It would also be of extreme importance to note that the famous riff in Black Sabbath’s eponymous song was inspired by a part in “Mars: God of War” (4:25) in Holst’s The Planets (note that the opening seems to have also inspired Andromeda and Diamond Head).

There were other bands influencing metal as well. Brian Harrington and Malcolm Dume, authors of Encyclopedia Metallica, write “The Nice played a major part in the development of the pomp-school of heavy metal and certainly (Keith) Emmerson’s influence was enormous.” His costumes and his attacks on his organ set examples of how to create an exciting stage performance.

Other bands like Yes and Genesis, though exemplary prog rock bands, included heavy metal elements. Listen to “Heart of the Sunrise” by Yes or some of the heavier parts of Genesis songs such as what crops up in “The Musical Box” (3:40 to 4:48) and you will hear the rumblings of heavy metal. In fact, Eddie Van Halen’s famous finger tapping technique was inspired by Steve Hackett’s finger tapping solos on songs like “Supper’s Ready” (8:10 to 8:25) and “The Fountain of Salmacis” (3:23 to 3:45). Hackett says he came up with the technique while trying to figure out how to play certain successions of notes that are easily played on a keyboard.

Furthering the connection between prog and metal, we see other British bands like T.2. and High Tide setting fine examples of early heavy metal while at the same time writing expanded and technically complex compositions, with T.2. leaning more to the jazz side and High Tide, featuring a lead violinist and including pseudo-Baroque passages, being more of the classically inspired. Necromandus were also a band that solidly straddled the line between heavy metal and progressive rock.

As heavy metal’s initial popularity began to wane after 1972/73, groups like Bloodrock and High Tide (after breaking up once) began exploring progressive rock more. Then in 1975, a band that would perfectly marry heavy rock with prog came out of Canada. The power trio Rush began developing their signature seventies style from their second album and by the time their fourth album, the monumental 2112 came out, the band had made prog in heavy rock fashionable. Their next two albums saw them experimenting with longer and complex compositions while maintaining the distorted guitars and technical lead playing. Sometimes considered the fathers of progressive metal, Rush would go on to inspire numerous metal bands of the future, perhaps the most notable of which is Dream Theater.

By the time the New Wave of British Heavy Metal broke loose, several artists delivered heavy metal with prog tendencies. One of the best examples is Iron Maiden’s debut album. Founding member bassist Steve Harris admits that prog rock had been his first love, and some of the songs on the debut album include expanded instrumental parts featuring tempo and time signature changes, rhythm changes, and a sense of melody.

Inspired by Iron Maiden, three new American metal bands would foster in the development of the progressive metal subgenre: Queensryche, Fates Warning, and Crimson Glory. Add to that the technical work of Watchtower and progressive metal had finally achieved a perfect marriage between progressive rock and heavy metal.

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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 Black Sabbath he famously said, “…just like Cream! But 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, and 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.

creem metal dead

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

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.

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.

anvil_25a

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.

queensryche-band-photo-1986

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.

godflesh rate your music

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.

The History of Heavy Metal – The First Generation: Chapter 9

Decline and Hard Rock

Until the Age of the Internet and digital music sharing, the popularity of any sub-genre of rock and pop was likely to last about five years. The new sounds would first begin to show up with some obvious connections to a previous generation of pop in the first year and develop into one of the new popular sounds of the second year. By the third year it would be at its most robust but also suffer a lot from music industry influence. By the fourth year a decline would set in as the next new flavour was beginning to take off. The fifth year usually marks that last year of any noteworthy songs or albums of the sub-genre before it became supplanted by the next new thing. The new sub-genre would gradually slink into the underground, outside of mainstream view for the most part, waiting for some future revival and evolutionary infusion. The case of the first generation of heavy metal suffered the same fate, albeit with an interesting twist to the tale.

Heavy guitar music had gradually at first and then more rapidly caught on in the sixties and it had come through some phases and changes. By 1969, a new wave of groups that had formed in ’68 were releasing albums of even heavier and more aggressive rock. In 1970 the new sound was established with the likes of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and scores upon scores of others. During this year and the next two, albums were recorded and released, some not released, singles hit the charts, and the new heavy guitar rock sound had a following. But by 1973 the scene was changing. Some bands like Necromandus and Iron Maiden (of Essex) had folded because of a lack of support. Other bands changed their sound to the more radio-friendly roots rock (Bang), pop guitar rock (Grand Funk), or even to progressive rock (Bloodrock and Hightide). Deep Purple became funkier, Black Sabbath more progressive but still very heavy, and Uriah Heep became less progressive and heavy and more hard rock. In fact, the hard rock movement was really coming to the forefront.

The serious heaviness of heavy metal was a bit much to maintain for most. Either albums weren’t getting recorded anymore or bands found it easier and more natural to follow the market and lighten their sound. The former manager of Bloodrock commented on one fan site that after some changes in the band roster, the band worked more on progressive rock than aggressive rock because they found the heavy rock sound limiting. As the early American punk scene focused on songs more than complex progressive music and the blues rock revival of the late sixties had made blues-based guitar rock fashionable again, a new wave of guitar rock was on the rise. Bands like Aerosmith and KISS were about having a good rocking time. Ted Nugent’s garage/psychedelic/progressive band The Amboy Dukes turned into a simple hard rock party band and became known as Ted Nugent. Scotland’s Nazareth had released one heavy guitar rock album followed by an unexpected experimental album of folk, blue grass, and blues before they became the hard rocking, blues-based hit band of the seventies. Blue Oyster Cult had begun their career as America’s answer to Black Sabbath but very quickly evolved into a hard rock band with occasional progressive tendencies. Boogie rock was one branch of rock that combined blues-based rock with hard rock guitar but was not particularly heavy. The seriousness of heavy metal lyrical themes was also something that fell out of favour with the general public as the fast living themes of hard rock life better appealed to the generation of the mid-seventies.

All over the world, bands who had been playing and recording heavy, slightly progressive, and deep music were now changing their styles. As the new sub-genre of hard rock sneakily usurped heavy metal’s throne, most first generation heavy metal bands collapsed. April Wine, AC/DC, Gary Glitter, Thin Lizzy, and the new breed were in the spotlight. Glam rock with its flash and sparkle also briefly claimed centre stage with KISS in the U.S. and Sweet in Britain scoring hits. Black Sabbath were one of the few bands to retain its heavy guitar sound, yet by the mid-seventies even Sabbath were struggling to find direction and not only produced a couple of their least popular albums of the seventies but also temporarily lost singer Ozzy Osbourne who considered starting his own band.

But it was not only hard rock that was surpassing heavy metal in popularity. American punk rock had been catching on, suspiciously with beginnings often considered developing in tandem with the first generation of heavy metal. The Stooges and MC5 were more punk rock than metal and yet they are regularly mentioned as pioneers of the heavy guitar rock sound. By the mid-seventies, once the British punk rock movement had arrived, old school metal – along with progressive rock – was practically stamped out. It would take an innovative change to the style of heavy metal to bring about the second wave, and that wave would be built upon the achievements of not only the first generation of heavy metal, but also in part it would be built on the unanticipated addition of punk rock and progressive rock sensibilities. First, however, an album by British rockers Judas Priest would set the blue print for the next sound development in heavy metal on their 1976 release “Sad Wings of Destiny”.

In the meantime, for most people, the change in style didn’t disrupt the popular view that loud, heavy guitar music performed by long-haired men (and some women too!) should be know as anything else than rock, rock n’ roll, or even heavy metal. As far as 1974 and 1975 were concerned, heavy metal was KISS, Aerosmith, Sweet, Nazareth, Blue Oyster Cult, and all those other bands. Canada’s hard rockers (with some metal and progressive tendencies) Triumph sang on their 1976 debut, “We’ve been five years working in a rock and roll band / blasting heavy metal right across the land”. But not matter how hard and heavy these bands rocked, there was often little semblance to the heavier sound of the early seventies when songs were about war, death, the evils of politics, the occult, and environmental destruction if not about lusty women.

The story of heavy metal’s second coming is, however, for some future topic. For now we can consider 1973 as an important transitional year when the last of the early seventies heavy guitar rock bands (excluding Black Sabbath) recorded albums of really heavy music and the new wave of hard rock bands began charting singles and selling debut albums.

The History of Heavy Metal – The First Generation: Chapter 8

Defining a New Sub-Genre of Rock

On February 13th, 1970 the debut album of a new band, Black Sabbath, was released in the U.K. The album came amidst a wave of loud, heavy guitar rock albums and at the time it was poorly received by the music press. From one perspective, the eponymous debut was nothing exceptional. The guitar was loud, played with distortion effects, used power chords, and included lots of soloing. The bass was not simply quietly in the back as a rhythm instrument but mixed near the front and often playing an important lead melody. The drums hit hard but had a jazzy swing to them. And the vocals were a little higher register than those of some contemporary vocalists but sung with passion and power and a certain degree of theatrics as the music required. Lyrics were about the occult, war, and fantasy. Individually, all these elements were nothing new. They had all been emerging in rock music over the previous several years and had become part of the new sound of heavy rock that grew out of the peak psychedelic years in 1967 and ’68. But as history would prove, there was something special about the music of Black Sabbath that distinguished it from the music of most other bands of the time.

One important factor was in guitarist Tony Iommi’s playing style. Having sliced off two finger tips in a sheet metal shop accident during his final days of employment, he was mortified that he would never be able to become a professional musician. Thankfully, he learned of another guitarist who had suffered a similar accident and how that guitarist had fashioned false finger tips. Iommi took inspiration and did the same, moulding artificial tips from plastic. Playing the guitar with this plastic tips wasn’t easy however, and to facilitate his playing technique, Iommi down-tuned his guitar. This would prove to be a crucial reason for the band’s future success.

Down-tuning was nothing new. As far back as 1966, the American garage rock / early psychedelic band, The Music Machine had tuned their instruments a key lower than usual in order to give their music a darker, heavier sound. But Black Sabbath would strike a chord, so to speak, with the addition of one element more: the diabolic tri-tone. It was avoided in western music for centuries because of its dissonant quality. As early as the 18th century, it became known as diabolus in musica, and many writers assert that the tritone and other dissonant chords were avoided in medieval and renaissance music because of its satanic connotations. It later became acceptable to use in western music composition, and the tritone that famously opened Black Sabbath’s self-titled song which opens the debut album, was inspired by Mars, the Bringer of War from Gustav Holst’s The Planets.

The album begins with the sound of rain, the distant peal of a church bell, and rumbles of thunder. Then abruptly the band play the tritone riff, slowly and ominously with an underscore of force, giving the music a frightening tone of heaviness and foreboding. The lyrics, “What is this that stands before me? / Figure in black that points a me,” were inspired by a real-life incident experienced by bassist Terry “Geezer” Butler when one night he alleged to have awoken to find a black figure standing before his bed. The sound of this new album was something different. Heavy guitar rock fusing psychedelia, jazz, blues, and even classical music, and lyrics of dark subject matter were already about (the band Coven had even written a song entitled “Black Sabbath” a year earlier), but it all came together here, along with Iommi’s down-tuning to create a monster of a hair-raising song with the rest of side one following the course with songs about paganism, wizards, and Lucifer. Several musicologists claim that the title track, and as well side one of the album, were the turning point of heavy rock music, where the elements that came to be recognized as synonymous with heavy metal music appeared in the right combination for the first time.

But in 1970, this particular new approach to rock and roll had not yet found an identifying moniker, and the term heavy metal had only just come in to use in reference to music – loud, raucous, untalented, rubbish music.

The term had been about in chemistry describing metallic elements with high atomic numbers, and it had been used in a 1962 novel by William S. Burroughs, “The Soft Machine” for the character Uranium Willy, the Heavy Metal Kid. A follow-up novel linked heavy metal with drugs and the term “metal music” appeared. “Heavy” became a term used in the late sixties to describe something potent and profound. The term could also refer to something grave and emotionally weighing. Steppenwolf famously used the term in their 1968 hit “Born to Be Wild”; however the phrase “heavy metal thunder” referred to the engine of a motorcycle. Heavy music was a beatnik phrase applied to slower and more amplified music. In the May 1968 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, reviewer Barry Gifford referred to Electric Flag’s album A Long Time Coming as the “synthesis of white blues and heavy metal music”, though Electric Flag’s music bears very little resemblance to that of Black Sabbath.

Perhaps the most famous use of the term comes in a review by critic Mike Saunders. In his November 1970 review for Rolling Stone of Humble Pie’s Safe as Yesterday Is, he described the music as “noisy, unmelodic, heavy metal-laden shit-rock”. In May of 1971 for Creem magazine, Saunders wrote of Sir Lord Baltimore that they seemed to have “down pat most of all the best heavy metal tricks in the book”. The term became used as a putdown for the music of other bands like Grand Funk Railroad and Dust, and the drug reference of Burroughs returned in 1979 when a New York Times music critic panned heavy metal rock as “brutally aggressive music played mostly for minds clouded by drugs”. In an interview with Black Sabbath’s Terry Butler, he said that people described their music as “the sound made when one drops a load of heavy metal”. Drummer Bill Ward coined the term ‘downer rock” and it became used for other bands like Bloodrock as well until the term heavy metal became the popular term.

Though Black Sabbath’s style may have best captured the essence of what was to become known by future generations as heavy metal, there were between 1970 and 1972 countless bands around the world playing their own take on heavy guitar music. Led Zepplein had already established themselves a year earlier as a heavy guitar rock band, though much of their music was more clearly rooted in R&B, and Deep Purple released In Rock, an monumental album of their new harder, heavier, and more aggressive and furious sound, in the spring of 1970. Styles among bands varied and could be blues-based, psychedelic-based, or progressive like bands such as T.2. and High Tide. A band may include a keyboard player on Hammond organ or be a power trio. In some cases a fifth member on rhythm guitar was included. Heavy rock music was played in not only the U.K. and the U.S. but bands also appeared in Germany, France, Iceland, Japan, Peru, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and a host of other countries whose artists would have less of an impact but whose albums are still sought after by collectors.

The early 1970’s were the years of progressive rock, roots rock, and the height of the first generation of heavy metal musicians. However, a generation in popular music is usually given five years from emergence to ultimate decline, and heavy metal music was to a large degree doomed to become unfashionable within such a short time. It would face a transformation and a period of underground existence.

A Playlist of Heavy Guitar Rock from 1969 to 1973

High Tide

Zior

Free

Iron Claw

Pentagram

Sir Lord Baltimore

Stone Garden

The 31 Flavors

Icecross

Warhorse

Necromandus

Jerusalem

Blue Phantom

Jacula

Lucifer’s Friend

May Blitz

Warpig

T.2.

Eloy

Dark

Jericho

Euclid

Leaf Hound

Cactus

Yesterday’s Children

Buffalo

Sainte Anthony’s Fyre

Rotomagus

Stray

Glass Sun Band

Nazareth

Blues Creation

Scorpions

Andromeda

Atomic Rooster

Captain Beyond

Dust

Budgie

Trapeze

Uriah Heep

Blue Oyster Cult

Bedemon

Grand Funk Railroad

Blackwater Park

Highway Robbery

Night Sun

Blue Cheer

Tarkus

Deep Purple

The Power of Zeus

Black Sabbath

Iron Maiden

Iron Butterfly

Valhalla

Jeronimo

Mountain

Bang

Flower Travelin’ Band

Bulbous Creation

Bodkin

Killing Floor

Pax

The Pink Fairies

The Litter

Taste

Tractor

Wicked Lady

Poobah

The Amboy Dukes

Argus

Vanilla Fudge

Possessed

Hard Stuff

New Lords

Thunderpussy

Freedom’s Children

Suck

UFO

Seompi

Bloodrock

Thundermug

Aerosmith

Led zeppelin

Zoot

A Foot in Cold Water

Montrose

Message

Samuel Prody

Elias Hulk

Alice Cooper

The History of Heavy Metal – The First Generation: Chapter Seven

1969 – The Turning Point

The two big years of psychedelic music caused a change in popular music that was unlike anything to have come before or after. Within those two years, rock was transformed into serious music; short and simple dance songs dropped out of favour and instead longer compositions with more technical playing or more advanced and complex music was becoming the in thing. Short songs were still necessary for radio play and hits, and simplicity still appealed to a large portion of the listening public. But rock musicians were interested in experimentation and thus many new sounds and styles emerged that had previously been heard only in experimental tinkering or not at all.

As previously discussed, in 1966 there were four foundations that would each contribute to the development of heavy metal: electric blues, garage rock, psychedelic rock, and the nascent progressive rock subgenre. Over the two years of 1967 and 1968, when psychedelic music mushroomed and swallowed just about every form of popular music, the three other foundations were transformed as though they had gone through adolescence and reached adulthood. Electric blues bands like The Yardbirds and Cream had adapted to the new sounds of the psychedelic period but by the end of it, both groups had folded. Yet the blues had not dropped of the music map at all. On the contrary, it re-emerged in 1969 with new muscle, and the most exemplary would have to be Led Zeppelin’s debut in January of 1969, featuring blazing guitar work by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant’s powerful howls, and a rhythm section with John Paul Jones and John Bonham that simply pounded the floor. If there was to be one album of 1969 that resonated furthest into the future of heavy guitar rock, this would be the one.

Garage rock as it had been in 1966, which was perhaps also its peak year, also underwent a great transformation. Bands had managed to work in the psychedelic sounds of ‘67/’68 and for many this lead to a harder-edged style. The Stooges, MC5, and the final album by The Litter are examples of the new approach to the garage rock style, and from this new sound the forth-coming subgenre of punk rock was in gestation. A great majority of bands, however, faded out by 1968, finding it difficult to maintain success with the style of music that had drawn the respective musicians together in the first place.

The subgenre to benefit most from the psychedelic peak years was progressive rock. By 1969 a slew of new groups had formed – mostly in Great Britain but also in Germany and Italy – who were interested in experimenting with music and who would take rock music far beyond its unsophisticated beginnings. Among these new groups, King Crimson was likely one of the most influential, not only in prog circles but also in heavy metal and most notably for their monster heavy hit of ’69, “21st Century Schizoid Man”.

The most important point that distinguishes the music of 1969 from previous years is that there were numerous new bands who recognized that it was not only possible but desirable to record an entire album, or nearly entire album, of heavy guitar rock music. Prior to 1969 perhaps the only album that was truly heavy to that extent was Blue Cheer’s “Vincebus Eruptum”. Led Zeppelin’s debut in January was a monster in itself with a heavier guitar sound than had appeared on most earlier blues rock recordings (except for maybe a couple of tracks from Cream’s “Fresh Cream”). More importantly though was that the music was no longer strictly adhering to the blues but had become blues-based. Speed burners like “Communication Breakdown” and the hurricane force of the instrumental section of “Dazed and Confused” combined speed and heaviness in ways barely unheard of and established this form of music as more than just a novelty but as a new style. The appeal to playing loud and heavy music extended even beyond bands who would establish themselves as classic heavy rock acts. After The Who had released “I Can See for Miles” in 1967, The Beatles had topped it for hard-hitting heaviness in 1968 with “Helter Skelter”. But in 1969, Pink Floyd beat that with “The Nile Song”, which had even more distortion and shouted vocals than The Beatles had in them.

With the appeal of loud, heavy guitar music, other new bands that appeared on the rock scene and thundered their way across vinyl were Americans like Grand Funk Railroad and Sir Lord Baltimore, whose muscled up music was so loud and raucous that it earned from critics the derisive appellation “heavy metal”. Lesley West played his heavy blues rock in his new band Mountain and Yesterday’s Children managed to cut a sole LP in 1969 of their brand of heavy rock. In Britain, Andromeda and High Tide were combining heavy guitar rock with the more complex musical approach that the new progressive rock bands were experimenting with, and the soon to be famous Deep Purple were approaching a critical moment in their history when guitarist Ritchie Blackmore would push the band further into a heavy guitar rock direction.

Without contention the most influential band in the early history of heavy metal, Black Sabbath, was also coming into form. Having changed from a folk-based band called Earth, the four musicians from Birmingham were working on a new sound that combined blues and jazz with heavy psychedelic sounds and fantasy and occult themes. Though their debut would not see record store shelves until 1970, their earliest single releases were quick to grab attention around the world. Iron Claw in Scotland, Pax in Peru, Bang in the U.S. and Flower Traveling Band in Japan, to name a few, snapped up this new heavier sound and began writing and recording music over the next couple of years.

Though heavy metal music is identified by its guitar sound and playing style, for a lot of heavy rock bands in 1969 the Hammond organ was equally important. Vanilla Fudge had introduced the sound of loud, heavy guitar with swirling Hammond organ chords to great success in 1967, and this sound had appealed to Ritchie Blackmore, who wanted to create a band that would be like Vanilla Fudge. Other bands in 1969 who included a Hammond organ player were Valhalla from Long Island, Spice (soon to be Uriah Heep) from the U.K., Warpig in Canada, and Lucifer’s Friend in Germany.

Naturally, as this new style of music became in vogue, many of the bands that had helped initiate it in 1967/’68 struggled to fit in the new scene. Iron Butterfly experienced a line-up shake down, losing guitarist Erik Braunn and taking on two new guitarists, Mike Pinera and Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt. The band managed one more album in 1971 before folding. Vanilla Fudge performed their farewell concert on March, 1970. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was no more as Hendrix began work on a new band project, Band of Gypsies. Other bands like Blue Cheer moved away from the heavy and voluminous sound they had created and ventured into another new subgenre called roots rock, which brought back the country and acoustic origins of rock and roll. More heavy rock bands would later also follow this route.

The year 1969 saw the rock music scene begin to coalesce into new subgenres out of the fertile nebula of psychedelic music. It was the year that progressive rock began to rise to the surface, that punk rock began to take on a form that is recognizable against the style that became popular in the mid-seventies, that roots rock started to attract a loyal following of musicians, and the year that a good number of bands around the world agreed that loud heavy guitar rock, sometimes including a thundering Hammond organ, was the direction in which their music lay. The first generation of heavy metal bands was born.