1977 – A Year of Transition for Heavy Metal

sin after sinOne night a couple of years ago, I was walking home and listening to some tracks from Judas Priest’s “Sin After Sin”, and it suddenly occurred to me that this was really heavy metal as we came to know it in the 1980s. I mean, who else was making music like this in 1977?!

There has been a lot of debate about when heavy was born and what exactly is heavy metal, but everyone I have heard contribute to the discussion agrees that Judas Priest was the forefather of the modern metal sound, which was then intensified and developed into further extremes later on.

The debate mostly revolves around the state of heavy metal music in the 1970s with the debate split between there not having been any heavy metal prior to 1976 with the exception of Black Sabbath and that heavy metal did exist because the term was being used to describe intense, exciting and, as was usually the case, deafening guitar rock, even though most of that music would now be classified as hard rock. Typically, it’s the older folks who experienced heavy metal in the 1970s, or at least in the early 1980s (like me), who argue that what we had back then was heavy metal because that’s what that style of music was called. Music lovers and music critics alike referred to that music as “heavy metal”.

07 Ted Nugent, 1977

Ted Nugent in 1977

During the 1970s, heavy metal music went through some important transitional phases. The original downer rock/heavy rock style that became labeled as heavy metal was prevalent between 1969 and 1971. From 1972 onward, the music of loud and intense guitar rock bands began to shift away from the doom and gloom minor chord style to something more like intensified rock and roll. By 1975, heavy metal was heard on albums by UFO, Nazareth, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, and Rush, while Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, KISS, and early Queen were also regarded as playing heavy metal music.

The following year, however, was when an important change began to appear in heavy metal music, most particularly seen in two albums: Rainbow’s “Rising” and Judas Priest’s “Sad Wings of Destiny”. The style was a move away from the pentatonic scale hard rock sound of most bands to more technical riffing with an added penchant for creating classically-influenced compositions. Ritchie Blackmore was a known fan of classical music and Judas Priest guitarist Glenn Tipton had classical piano training. In a way, the move was toward more epic songs with more complex musical structure. Lyrics returning to war themes were less about the futility of war and the doom it spelled for mankind and more about the struggles of the hero fighting against oppressive forces. Evil was not necessarily personified in Satan but in warlords and evil wizards who oppressed the people and heroes of the story. Fantasy themes were revived as well, as in Rainbow’s “Stargazer”. Judas Priest soon would begin giving us fantastic characters like the “Sinner” and the “Starbreaker”.

By 1977, there some a couple of major shifts occurring in the heavy music scene. Perhaps most importantly but least obvious in album releases was the beginnings of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. It would take the current hard rock scene, some inspiration from the progressive rock scene (certainly in the case of Iron Maiden), the likes of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Rainbow, and the rise of punk rock to inspire young British bands to create a new style of heavy metal for the 1980s. quartzBut in 1977, most bands who were part of the NWoBHM scene were only just forming. Quartz released their debut album in 1977 and this album is sometimes regarded as the first release in the NWoBHM. The style is certainly portentous of things to come.

As for the old guard of seventies heavy metal, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin did not release albums in that year. Deep Purple had split up, and what the various members were offering on vinyl was a mixed bag of blues, funk, rock, jazz fusion, and hard rock. Rainbow released a live album, but no studio album. The Ian Gillan Band released their second album, “Clear Air Turbulence”, a jazz fusion album. John Lord and Ian Paice were with Tony Ashton in PAL, who rocked and grooved but were not really even hard rock, despite having Bernie Marsden on guitar. Roger Glover was immersed in guitar-less progressive music with his album “Elements”; Nicky Simper was in the hard rock band Nicky Simper’s Fandango; Rod Evans had left Captain Beyond and was about to commit career suicide with an attempt to create an all-new Deep Purple; Tommy Bolin was dead; Glenn Hughes was following his funk ambitions; and David Coverdale launched his solo career with a bluesy, funky, rock album called, “Whitesnake”.

expectOther bands from the early seventies scene included Nazareth, who released “Expect No Mercy”, a solid rock album with some heavier tracks and a very metal cover. Their 1978 album, “No Mean City”, however, was closer to a heavy metal album and possibly their second heaviest after “Hair of the Dog”. Uriah Heep released two albums in 1977, “Innocent Victim” and “Firefly”, both featuring some traditional Uriah Heep hard rockers and some more progressive tracks as well as some lighter tracks not worth considering in a hard rock and heavy metal dialogue.

From the mid-seventies hard rock scene, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, KISS, Moxy, Thin Lizzy, UFO, and several others released albums along with a slew of second wave bands on their first, second or third albums like The Runaways, Teaze, Triumph, Angel, Starz, Thor and so on. But for many of these bands, the 1977/78 period was one of identity searching. angelAngel had begun more like a heavy rock band with progressive proclivities and Rainbow-esque themes but by 1977/78 the band was stripping back to an AOR sound and by the fourth album were heading in a catchy, glam rock/hard rock direction. Canada’s Teaze also began their career in a solid hard rock base with their debut in 1977 but then switched to a more radio friendly approach. Starz also followed a similar trajectory. KISS was lightening up a bit with “Love Gun”, and Sweet would release their last really hard rock album in 1977 with “Off the Record” before softening their sound for the next year.

The mighty Blue Oyster Cult were always spread out over heavy rock and hard rock but with strong connections to rock and roll and the melodies of early 60s American pop radio. After achieving major success with their song “Don’t Fear the Reaper” in 1976, they delivered their fifth album in ’77. “Spectres” which includes the concert staple “Godzilla” but also piano-infused rock and roll and melodic numbers like “Searchin’ for Celine” and “Celestial Queen”. In the following year they would release their least heavy album of the seventies, “Mirrors”.

Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper, and UFO all released albums in ’77 with some hard rocking tracks but also, in the case of Thin Lizzy and Alice Cooper, a range of styles. UFO’s “Lights Out” is a highly-regarded album among fans of seventies rock, but it was noticeably lighter than the previous two albums.

creem metal deadTo summarize the state of hard rock in 1977, some bands were getting harder and heavier, some bands were diversifying their sound, and many other bands were delivering their last really hard rocker before attempting an AOR or arena rock approach. More melodies, more keyboards, more catchy hooks. This is perhaps what most inspired the October, 1979 article in Creem magazine about the death of heavy metal.

However, aside from hopefuls Judas Priest and Rainbow and – save for the Quartz debut album – the as yet unknown New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene, there were still some bands who released albums worthy of distinction in 1977.

rock cityRiot – Rock City. Riot’s debut album took American style hard rock and put some extra juice into it. In a way, certain tracks can almost sound like a forerunner of the soon-to-be unleashed British scene. There’s an intensity particularly in the first half of the album that shows a band striving to add an extra punch and pound to its music. The album does lighten up with more emphasis on vocal melodies towards the end. But for 1977 it sounds like an album pointing the way ahead rather than jumping on the bandwagon.

bow wowBow Wow – Signal Fire. Japan’s Bow Wow released their second and third albums in 1977. Though they were later to fall victim to identity search like many other bands, their album “Signal Fire” rocks with a more consistent intensity than Riot’s “Rock City”. Had this album come out of the U.K. in 1980, it would have fit right in with the likes of Tank, Raven, Saxon, and Tygers of Pan Tang.


motorheadMotorhead – self-titled. It took over a year for Motorhead to finally get their debut album released, and though it lacks the more developed sound of the next three albums, the debut still offers up that familiar raw, lo-fi biker rock sound that made Lemmy and Co. unique. Though Motorhead’s style is rooted in a more primitive rock and roll approach, Lemmy’s ragged vocals and the speed and grit of Motorhead’s music easily associated the band with heavy metal.

farewellRush – A Farewell to Kings. Originally a hard rock band, Rush’s shift towards progressive rock opened up a wonderful opportunity to develop a new style of music. Sometimes regarded as the godfather’s of progressive metal, Rush took prog’s complexity and technicality and applied it to their power trio format, augmenting their sound with keyboards. “A Farewell to Kings” is not as heavy as some other albums of ’77, but tracks like “Xanadu” and “Cygnus X-1” show how heavy rock can be intelligent and complex while still hammering home the power chords and energetic displays of metal intensity.

TakenByForceScorpions – Taken By Force. The original Scorpions and their debut album in 1972 were very much a part of the so-called Kraut Rock scene. But the band folded after the departure of Michael Schenker, and so brother Rudolf Schenker along with vocalist Klaus Meine went to see guitar wiz Uli Jon Roth and ask to join his band. Roth agreed if they could use the more known Scorpions name. Over the next three albums, Scorpions would gradually shed their Kraut Rock sound and develop a hard and heavy rock style that was different from those of the U.K. and North America. “Taken By Force” is probably the best sounding album of the early Scorpions releases, but more importantly it features two fantastic heavy metal tracks in the dark and technical “Sails of Charon” and the speedy, proto-thrasher “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man”.

Based on my impression from dozens of albums released in 1977 and as well the views expressed by Martin Popoff in the Banger TV video on the best heavy albums of 1977 and Scot Waters’ video of hard and heavy rock of 1977, I feel 1977 was a year of transition for the mid-seventies hard rock scene and the nascent underground New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene. While some bands looked for a more melodic and catchy music style to attract greater appeal, other bands were intensifying their sound or writing songs of more lyrical intelligence and musical complexity and technicality. This was not only the beginning of metal as we knew it from the 80’s but also where the divergence of hard rock and heavy metal began to set in with Judas Priest at the vanguard of the new style.

The Birth of Death


Honestly, death metal was one reason why I lost interest in heavy metal. I was there when it was all coming together, as the ingredients were being mixed, the concoction stirred. However, I missed the final crucial years, and by the time the potion had been decanted, I came in to look and wondered what had happened to my beloved heavy metal music. Where were the new Rob Halfords, Bruce Dickenson’s, and Ronnie James Dios? Had singing gone out of fashion?

I came in to the metal scene just after the New Wave of British Heavy Metal had washed ashore and heavy metal became a household word. Then, just as Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, and Motley Crue were making metal the underdog chart champion of the world in 1983, thrash metal suddenly crashed onto the scene. With it came more extreme metal bands like Celtic Frost, Bathory, and Possessed. I was into each of these bands, but by 1987 I became more interested in the roots of heavy metal, and by 1989 when I came back to contemporary releases via Christian heavy metal, I found myself a little nonplussed by the deep guttural vocal styles of bands like Vengeance Rising and Seventh Angel (wish I had never sold off that one now!). Bands I had liked, such as Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer, were changing their sound and it didn’t appeal to me either. I lost touch with the developments in my favourite music genre and what I heard—Fear Factory, Marilyn Manson, One Minute Silence—was good but not what metal was to me. And whenever I heard these bands with incomprehensible, rumbling, roaring, growling vocals, I likened them to demons vomiting after a night of heavy drinking and spicy Mexican food.

It took a long way round for me to return to heavy metal and discover just how many subgenres it had fractionated into. My interest in progressive rock took me to progressive metal which brought me to Devin Townsend and then to Opeth. Finally, early in 2017, I came to appreciate the death metal growl and became curious about other bands. Then the history buff in me took over and I plunged into old school death metal.

Heavy Metal: Progressing to the Extreme

creem metal deadIn the late seventies, heavy metal had lost its identity. The depressed and nihilistic lyrics about war, political corruption, psychopathic mental illnesses, substance abuse, the doom of the earth and the human race, and sometimes just plain old lyrics about Satan winning thanks to our sinful ways, had gone out of fashion for the most part by around 1972, and a more fun type of energetic guitar music about rock and roll, women, relationships, and a few hard times in life became the new hard guitar music. Traces of doom and gloom still surfaced in the odd band or album, but aside from metal kings Black Sabbath, the rest was mostly underground.

When punk rock came to force in the late seventies, heavy metal was said to have lost its relevance and become redundant. What critics hadn’t bet on was that young metal musicians would learn from punk’s aggressive attitude and DIY approach and create a new brand of metal for a new generation. With the help of Judas Priest’s reinvention of the metal sound, some inspiration from progressive rock, and Motorhead’s bombastic raw and speedy style, heavy metal became faster, fuller, and demanded new levels of skill.

The NWoBHM delivered various styles of metal, and it was the faster, punk-influenced concoction that spurred the American thrash scene, while some of the darker-themed bands encouraged new directions in extreme metal in Europe.



Venom were the most influential of the lot, playing fast and aggressive music that was a natural extension of Motorhead but also using Satanic lyrical themes and imagery. The music was, for the most part, still rather fun though. Switzerland’s Hellhammer and Sweden’s Bathory would do more to develop the darker and vocally deeper side of metal. Influenced by the punk band Discharge, Hellhammer went in search of a new sound for metal. With the addition of Martin Ain on vocals and a change in sound, the band became Celtic Frost, which would go on to influence a number of future death metal bands. Bathory’s sound would in turn set a template for the later black metal movement.

Back in the U.S.A., thrash was the pimply-faced, beer-swilling rival and challenger to L.A.’s hairspray and spandex glam metal scene. But while many bands sang about violence and war, one band took things more extreme. Slayer burst onto the scene with the Satanic themes but went further with lyrics of horror and homicide. Their album Hell Awaits became an inspiration to many young European bands. The next step came with Possessed’s Seven Churches. This album made metal not only faster, but more frightening with Jeff Becerra’s deep, roaring vocal style. Indeed, Possessed’s song entitled “Death Metal” would lend its name to this budding new extension of extreme metal.

Things Get Brutal

pleasure to killWith one album under their collective belt, Germany’s Kreator were looking to take things to the next level. They approached their new producer, Harris Johns, with copies of Hell Awaits and Seven Churches and said that this was the kind of album they wanted to make. The producer responded with, “Oh, I think we can do better than that”. Kreator’s second album, Pleasure to Kill featured fast, tight, and sometimes complex playing with snarling, teeth-gnashing, gruff vocals. Another German band, Sodom, took to thrash metal with a similar vocal approach. It seemed that while Americans preferred shouted vocals, Europeans were more into menacing and brutal vocals.

SLAUGHTER-Strappado-LP-BLACK-ORIGINAL-MIXMeanwhile over in Canada, Toronto’s Slaughter were joined by a musician from Florida. Chuck Schuldiner of Mantas played with the band for six months before returning south (couldn’t stand the winter?). By the time Slaughter recorded Strappado, their first full-length album in 1986, their sound had become full-on brutal bombast with deep, grumbling guitars and dual vocals that sounded like shouted, angry barks and barbaric growls.

scream bloody goreChuck Schuldiner’s band, Death, released their debut album, Scream Bloody Gore, in 1987, and this is often considered as the birth of the death metal subgenre (was it because of the screams at the start of the album?). Other Floridian bands soon followed. For many fans, death metal was born in Florida, and yet it a way, the Floridian extreme metal scene was like a response to the Californian extreme metal scene. Thrash elements were still largely present and bands typically headed west for performances, mingling with the Californ-I-A bands. But Florida’s scene was to feature two important differences: the music was splitting into either more technical styles as with Atheist and Cynic, or slowing to a bone-crunching grind as with Obituary. But as death metal rapidly caught on and spread northward, brutal and technical music became the favoured approach as with New York’s Immolation and Quebec’s Gorguts.

Don’t Forget the Brits!

necroticismAll the while extreme metal was developing and evolving in the U.S., the British had their own scene going on. Across the Atlantic, hard core punk was branching into metal—the opposite of what had happened in the States—and a new subgenre called grindcore became the British answer to thrash. It didn’t take long though before British bands also took to brutalizing things up a bit. Carcass and Napalm Death fully embraced the deep, guttural vocal style, and after the release of a couple of solid grindcore albums, their styles took on a death metal sound. Close behind were Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, whose vocals went even deeper but whose music was typically slower and more ominous, leading the way for the death/doom offshoot. Perhaps Britain’s first death-from-debut band was Bolt Thrower, who adopted war as its signature theme and released its debut, In Battle There Is No Law, in 1988. It’s important to note that Bolt Thrower’s foundations were built upon Discharge, Crass, and Slayer, once again bringing the British roots of hardcore punk and grindcore and the Slayer influence into the picture.

Mad as a Corpse Cannibalized on an Altar

altars of madnessOne of the most important albums in death metal would come in 1989 from Floridian band, Morbid Angel. Their debut album, Altars of Madness, set the bar for death metal by taking fast, technical, and brutal metal to a new level. If the mantra for death metal bands had been “faster, heavier, more brutal, more technical” then Morbid Angel carved it in bone. In fact, when looking at lists of top old school death metal and even death metal albums in general, Altars of Madness is more often than not at the top of the list. But as the Floridian scene rapidly evolved, New York’s brought forth one of the most famous bands in death metal with Cannibal Corpse, a band who took human corpse mutilation to the extreme of every horror film and novel, and whose album cover art represents some of the most imaginative, macabre, and grotesque ever to sit in a record store. Junior high school boys everywhere were thrilled!


Cannibal Corpse with Chris Barnes

Oh, Those Ghoulish Swedish

left hand pathEuropeans can’t leave a good metal scene alone, and it was time for Sweden to rise from the grave to the occasion. Emerging also in the late eighties were the bands Carnage, Morbid, and Nihilist, who then fragmented into Entombed, Dismember, and Unleashed. The fourth of the Swedish Big Four was Grave. These bands lowered the tuning of their guitars and made good use of the Boss HM-2 distortion pedal. The Swedish take on death metal proved there was more than one way to explore and develop this new subgenre. In fact, a good point was made in the Banger TV episode about early death metal—that early death metal musicians looked at what they could do to define the death metal sound and the results were fairly diverse.

The brachiating of death metal—sometimes toward fast and technical, sometimes toward slow and massively heavy—continued until around 1992/93 when new avenues were opened up: the so-called melo-death or melodic death metal, death-and-roll, progressive death metal, and even more extremes of technical and brutal death metal. Death/doom had a short-lived period that for some bands led to gothic metal, such as with My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, and Finland’s Amorphis. Perhaps 1993 is a good year to draw a line ending the old school death metal growth period. Production of death metal albums improved as the nineties advanced, and the old guard were often playing new styles or in some cases had disappeared.

I’ve compiled a list of frequently-cited old school death metal albums. I consulted several lists on the Internet: some private lists on RateYourMusic and also lists by LoudWire, MetalStorm, and Metal Music Archives. I’ve also checked lists of top old school death metal albums on YouTube. Here are thirty of the most often-mentioned albums released between 1985 and 1993. They are not in any exact ranking order; however, albums near the bottom of the list were more frequently mentioned than albums near the top. The album most consistently included on old school death metal lists was Altars of Madness.

Napalm Death – Harmony Corruption
Cynic – Focus
Immolation – Dawn of Possession
Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
Demilich – Nespithe
Death – Leprosy
Malevolent Creation – The Ten Commandments
Pestilence – Testimony of the Ancients
Pestilence – Consuming Impulse
Autopsy – Severed Survival
Death – Human
Demigod – The Slumber of Sullen Eyes
Deicide – Deicide
Obituary – Cause of Death
Death – Individual Thought Patterns
Unleashed – Where No Life Dwells
Autopsy – Mental Funeral
Terrorizer – Downfall
Death – Scream Bloody Gore
Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
Obituary – Slowly We Rot
Bolt Thrower – Realm of Chaos
Carcass – Necroticism Descanting the Insalubrious
Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten
Possessed – Seven Churches
Morbid Angel – Covenant
Carcass – Heartwork
Dismember – Like an Ever Flowing Stream
Entombed – Left Hand Path
Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness

Videos about death metal

Banger TV Early Death Metal

A Basterdized History of Death Metal

Death Metal versus Black Metal

Death Metal Doc

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.

heavy metal digest

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.


Back from the Dead – Heavy Metal

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



Iron Claw


Sir Lord Baltimore

Stone Garden

The 31 Flavors





Blue Phantom


Lucifer’s Friend

May Blitz







Leaf Hound


Yesterday’s Children


Sainte Anthony’s Fyre



Glass Sun Band


Blues Creation



Atomic Rooster

Captain Beyond




Uriah Heep

Blue Oyster Cult


Grand Funk Railroad

Blackwater Park

Highway Robbery

Night Sun

Blue Cheer


Deep Purple

The Power of Zeus

Black Sabbath

Iron Maiden

Iron Butterfly





Flower Travelin’ Band

Bulbous Creation


Killing Floor


The Pink Fairies

The Litter



Wicked Lady


The Amboy Dukes


Vanilla Fudge


Hard Stuff

New Lords


Freedom’s Children







Led zeppelin


A Foot in Cold Water



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.

The History of Heavy Metal – Chapter Six: Break On Through

The years of 1967 and ’68 were arguably the most influential and important years in the evolutionary history of pop music. The world of pop music prior and the world of pop music after look very different from one another. As far as the development of heavy metal was concerned, the psychedelic peak years were the period when some classic proto-metal music was recorded.

In chapter five we considered four developing sub-genres of pop music – British invasion electric blues, American garage rock and its British counterpart known as freak beat, the nascent progressive rock scene, and the emerging psychedelic music scene which was very closely tied to the proto-progressive bands (chiefly The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention). The psychedelic explosion that occurred over the above-mentioned two years altered the other three sub-genres profoundly. Blues artists such as Cream and The Yardbirds entered the psychedelic years on strong legs and experimented with the immensely varied possibilities that psychedelic music created. Cream gave us two very different and remarkable albums with “Disraeli Gears” in ’67 and “Wheels of Fire” in ’68. Their blues sound became less emphasized but their music more diverse and imaginative, yet still they managed to keep the blues an integral part of their music and scored memorable hits with “Strange Brew”, “Sunshine of Your Love”, and “Crossroads”. Yet despite their success, or because of it, Cream disbanded in 1969.

The Yardbirds, under the guidance of Jimmy Page, were moving toward a harder blues rock sound; however their 1967 album “Little Games” was influenced too greatly by their producer Giorgio Gomelsky who pushed for more quirky British psychedelic songs. Though Page continued to steer the band toward heavy psychedelic rock, the band dissolved before the end of ’68 and Page hastily summoned new members, forming The New Yardbirds who soon changed their name to Led Zeppelin. Their debut album in January of 1969 is a landmark album in the history of heavy metal music.

The garage rock and freak beat scenes were divided from the beginning with some bands pursuing more pleasing pop numbers while others preferred a grittier sound with rough vocals and fuzz tone guitar. The Seeds and The Sonics both emerged early on with their distinctive sounds – The Seeds with a sneer and penchant for fuzz tone and The Sonics with their highly energetic and aggressive approach. Their styles, however, became significantly mellow during the peak psychedelic years. On the other hand, The Litter and The Amboy Dukes (led by Ted Nugent) went in a heavier direction with The Litter’s final album in ’69 being as much a proto-punk album as a proto-metal one, and The Amboy Dukes experimenting with heavy guitar-based progressive music by the end of the decade. Britain’s The Attack also turned heavier with the inclusion of guitarist John Cann, and though they would dissolve in ’68, Cann would create his heavy progressive act Andromeda during the final year of The Attack’s existence. Ultimately, though, garage rock would lose popularity and run its course as psychedelic music encouraged more experimental and often more complex music.

The progressive music scene was likely the one that benefited most from the psychedelic explosion exactly because it encouraged experimentation and complexity. Early landmarks were The Beatles “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for its almost conceptual nature and Procol Harum’s hit “Whiter Shade of Pale”, which was derivative of Bach and further expressed the concept of writing pop music with classical influences. Indeed already The Beatles and The Beach Boys had already created albums that were meant to be listened to and not just music for dancing and parties. By the year 1969, progressive rock was miles ahead with debut albums by King Crimson and Yes, and the envelop-pushing sounds of The Nice.

Psychedelic music gave musicians and song writers the freedom to explore any approach they desired. This meant music could be mellow and sweet with acoustic guitars, flute, organ, and harmony vocals (many Summer of Love anthems), loud and powerful with brass and deep, soulful vocals (The Electric Flag, Tom Jones), trippy and experimental with in-studio effects or guitar and organ effects (Jefferson Airplane’s “After Bathing at Baxter’s”), or raucous and aggressive (Blue Cheer’s “Vincebus Eruptum”). As such, some bands sought a heavier sound with emphasis on electric guitar and distortion effects. To accompany this, louder and more powerful vocals were often necessary. The rhythm section of drums and bass also advanced to help create more complex music. In particular, changes in the styles of drumming occurred with great leaps as drummers with strong jazz backgrounds contributed their talents and eastern rhythms were introduced in western music. Ron Bushy’s drum solo in Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was distinctive of the new drumming styles of the late sixties.

Few would argue against the notion that heavy metal’s most recognizable instrument is the electric guitar with its distortion. Guitar playing was already making great advances in the early to mid-sixties with musicians like Dick Dale, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and the lesser-known Ritchie Blackmore developing new methods of playing. But in early 1967, one man would bring to the table a way of guitar playing and song-writing that was unprecedented. Jimi Hendrix dropped jaws at his debut appearance at the Marquee in London, and among those jaws that fell open were those of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Pete Townshend. The Jimi Hendrix Experience released the single “Purple Haze” in March, 1967 and their debut “Are You Experienced” came out in May of the same year. Hendrix’s blend of traditional blues with eastern modalities, guitar distortion and his unique style made him a sensation. His band’s short run would produce a number of classic hits and as well influence countless musicians, particularly those in the still nascent heavy metal and hard rock genres.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream produced two of the most memorable guitar riffs in 1967 with “Purple Haze” and “Sunshine of Your Love” respectively. The Who, following The Beatles example of a concept album, recorded their commercial sell-out concept album, “The Who Sell Out” and featured the killer psychedelic hard rocker “I Can See for Miles”. Jefferson Airplane began the year of ’67 with their classic album “Surrealistic Pillow” that scored two hits: “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”. But it was their follow-up to that, “After Bathing at Baxter’s” where the guitar experimental sounds and a harder edge to some songs entered their repertoire. Fellow California-born band The Doors held no bars with the frantic pace of “Break On Through (to the other side)“. The Yardbirds album “Little Games” might have been a disappointment to many; however, “Think About It” on side B introduced an early version of the guitar solo that would appear on Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” in ’69. Meanwhile on the American east coast, Vanilla Fudge were creating a unique sound with soulful vocals, Hammond organ, and a heavy guitar sound. Their covers of “You Keep Me Hanging On” and “Ticket to Ride” caught the attention of many musicians, including one Ritchie Blackmore who decided that he would like to create a band like Vanilla Fudge. Also worthy of mention in ’67 was the debut of Pink Floyd, which featured some loud and experimental guitar numbers “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Astronomy Domine”.

Amidst these stand out points, there were bands across the western hemisphere who were exploring heavy psychedelic and aggressive garage rock. As 1967 reached its autumn, new bands were recording debut albums to be released in January of ’68. That month gave us two excellent proto-metal hits with Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” and Blue Cheer’s bombastic thundering cover of “Summertime Blues”. Also in that month, Iron Butterfly released its debut with “Iron Butterfly Theme” being an exemplary instrumental of loud, heavy psychedelic rock.

The year 1968 also saw the formation of Deep Purple, and though the music on their first three albums would pale beneath the thunderhead album that was “Deep Purple in Rock” in 1970, there was still a drive by Ritchie Blackmore to feature energetic and creative rock music with classical influences and hard rock guitar shredding. Some of Blackmore’s most volatile solos can be heard on these early albums.

It was the year of a turning point in rock music. Though 1968 saw certain bands reach the peak of their careers, there were new bands forming in the wings, and while the older bands whose careers had already spanned two or three years – or even more in some cases – were continuing with the current trends, the new bands were picking out the best of the heavy sounds and preparing themselves for the final year of the sixties. Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” had produced yet another classic proto-metal riff. Jimmy Page was taking a violin bow to his guitar. Jeff Beck had released his debut with Rod Stewart on vocals. Vanilla Fudge were getting heavier. The influence of Blue Cheer’s debut was rippling outward. Cream and The Yardbirds were getting heard in America. The Who were enjoying worldwide success. The Beatles tried to top The Who by recording the pounding stomper “Helter Skelter”. If anything, hard-hitting, heavy and aggressive rock music was becoming attractive. And the new bands of 1969 would usher in the next generation of heavy rock, a style that would earn itself the title heavy metal.

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

Most documentaries and accounts of the history of heavy metal music will mention the debut album by Black Sabbath as the first instance of the popular music sub-genre. Others will report initial stirrings of the style in the psychedelic years of the late sixties. Black Sabbath could never have been if it had not been for this crucial musical development in their home country. For when the British discovered the blues, that really set things in motion.

Chapter Four: The British Invasion

Rock & Roll came to Britain in the 1950’s and immediately appealed to the British youth. By the late fifties, Britain had produced its own stars like Cliff Richard and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. Rock & Roll was a product of America and was exported to the U.K. via the American service men who brought records from back home with them. This included not only Rock & Roll but also jazz and blues. The exotic sounds of African American music, particularly its focus on rhythm, inspired many young Britons who were already interested in picking up instruments and learning to play Rock & Roll. While many young drummers turned to jazz, a good number of guitar players and singers preferred the blues. The Blues were led by a guitar riff and featured soulful vocals. The guitarist was given the spotlight for a lead performance. Bands dedicated to the blues began forming around the country.

The vanguard of the British Invasion (as the succession of chart-topping British pop bands came to be known in the U.S.) was fronted by the Mersey beat mop tops, the Beatles whose music was very pop oriented. However, close behind were The Rolling Stones whose career would stick closely to the blues and who began doing mostly covers of old American blues numbers. The Kinks became famous for their garage rock hit “You Really Got Me” but initially they also covered blues classics. Originally known as The High Numbers, The Who did R&B numbers and American pop hits covers but with intensity and they referred to their music “maximum R&B”. There was also The Yardbirds, with a young Eric Clapton on guitar, who really tried to stick with the image of a true blues band, even going as far as to record an album with blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson II (a.k.a. “Rice” Miller). The five bands mentioned above were each very distinct in their musical styles from one another. During the years between 1964 and 1966, two of them would have the greatest influence on the development of heavy metal.

The Beatles were the lords of the pop charts. In all of their career, their contribution toward heavy metal would remain at a minimum in comparison with the other four bands. The Kinks inspired distorted guitar riff rock with their songs “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night”, and these songs are sometimes cited as the first instances of heavy metal music for their raw sound and blazing guitar solos. Indeed the songs have been covered many times by rock, punk, and metal bands, and Van Halen’s cover of “You Really Got Me” in 1978 put the song back in the spotlight. The Rolling Stones, as we saw in Chapter Three, kicked the fuzz box craze in motion with their buzzing classic riff for “(I Can’t Get no) Satisfaction” in 1965. But neither The Kinks nor The Rolling Stones would develop the heaviness of their music quite like The Who and The Yardbirds.

From the onset, The Who was not content to be another British pop band. They did R&B covers, and Pete Townshend scored the band’s first hit when his efforts write a garage rock riff number churned out “I Can’t Explain”. The B-side of the single included a cover of “Bald Headed Woman” with a rather heavy fuzz-toned guitar opening played by young session musician, Jimmy Page. Through 1965 and ’66, The Who would record many more originals as well as covers, and the band’s individual members would turn The Who into legends. Guitarist Pete Townshend would become famous for his leaps and scissor jumps on stage while swinging his arm like a pinwheel and slashing the guitar strings. Bassist John Entwistle became a leading force in bass playing and is featured playing a fuzz tone bass in his solo “The Ox” and known for his bass solo in The Who’s smash hit “My Generation”. His playing style influenced many future bass players. As the lead vocalist on most songs, Roger Daltrey put a face to the songs. He would later develop a rougher and more powerful style of singing. And then there was drummer Keith Moon, whose off-stage antics became almost as legendary as his drumming style. It was said that Townshend and Entwistle would play the music and Moon would just solo over everything.

As much as their music, The Who would contribute to the future style of heavy metal in two other ways. One was Pete Townshend’s quest for volume. As The Who moved out of small clubs and into bigger venues, the band required greater amplification for their instruments. Townshend worked together with Jim Marshall at Marshall amps to develop an amplifier that could deliver the output required. This led to the development of the Marshall amplifiers that gave The Who their wall-of-sound and earned them the title of loudest band in the world. The Marshall amp became synonymous with heavy metal music in the late seventies and eighties.

The other crucial contribution by The Who was their stage performance. The British Invasion emerged during a time of Mod culture in Britain, when young men pursued fashion in the way of Italian suits. Early recorded performances show British bands standing erect and proper, dressed in suits and playing their instruments cheerfully in the TV studio or on the stage. The Who would change that one night when Pete Townshend raised his guitar and accidentally rammed it through the low ceiling over the club stage. The audience found this amusing and this infuriated him more so he crashed the guitar onto the stage. The audience took notice now as did Keith Moon who promptly kicked his drum set over. Daultrey began stomping on his microphone. News of the band’s wild behaviour spread and this wanton destruction of their instruments on stage became a shock factor that people wanted to experience. Loud, wild, and rocking, The Who may just as well have been one of the first punk rock bands, too.

The smooth blues of the Yardbirds with Eric Clapton as their lead guitarist earned them a following among electric blues fans. However, the band was not getting on the charts as their contemporaries were, and a pop number “For Your Love” was recorded. This got them recognized on the charts, but Eric Clapton was not pleased as the band began considering doing more pop numbers. Unwilling to sell out, Clapton quit the band. After Jimmy Page declined to take over, he suggested his friend Jeff Beck. Beck was an ideal fit because he could play the blues, he could play more pop-oriented numbers and perhaps most importantly, he was eager to experiment with the sound and style of the guitar.

With Jeff Beck on board, The Yardbirds’ sound became grittier. Jeff used fuzz boxes for guitar solos as in “Heart Full of Soul” and “Mister You’re a Better Man Than I” but he also played more aggressive riffs such as on The Yardbirds’ cover of “Train Kept A Rollin’” and “I Ain’t Done Wrong”, the latter including an instrumental part that sounds like twelve-bar blues thrash metal. Another important instrumental number is “Somebody to Love Part 2” which features lots of experimental fuzz guitar playing and some unusual scales with a more eastern sound. In Jeff Beck, the Yardbirds also had their own Wildman. Beck’s hair was longer than most musicians at the time and he also had a habit of breaking the wooden casing of his fuzz boxes. He was prone to take out fits of frustration on his guitar. In the 1966 movie “Blow Up”, Both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page appear playing in The Yardbirds performing a heavier, re-written version of “Train Kept A Rollin’” called “Stroll On”, and when Beck’s amp starts acting up, he smashes his guitar and throws the neck out to the audience.

The British bands gave rock music a new look and sound: guitar-based rock bands that played the blues with more aggression and a grittier sound and with more volume than ever before, and who could gain notoriety through wilful destruction of their equipment. What had started as a fascination with African American blues had turned into a new style of playing rock music. The influence of their music would last well into the seventies. In the meantime, on both sides of the Atlantic musicians and studios were changing. No longer content with standard classic Rock & Roll, new ideas were being brought into pop music and the recording studio was going under a make-over. The Psychedelic age was about to begin.

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

Most documentaries and accounts of the history of heavy metal music will mention the debut album by Black Sabbath as the first instance of the popular music sub-genre. Others will report initial stirrings of the style in the psychedelic years of the late sixties. But the heavy metal sound depends a lot on a particular piece of equipment that was invented in 1961.

Chapter Three: Here Comes the Fuzz!

As we saw in Chapter One, the sound of Rock and Roll was defined to a degree by the sound of the electric guitar. That buzzing sound of a loose speaker cone held in place by newspaper crammed into the speaker box gave Jackie Breston and his Delta Cats’ “Rocket 88” a special edge. Distortion was actually explored by many guitarists in the 1940’s and 50’s. The electric guitar was originally intended to produce clean sounds; however, it was discovered that if you turned the amplifier volume all the way up, the vacuum tubes would become over capacitated and the result would be a warm distorted sound. This was overdrive and it appealed.

Guitar distortion began appearing on recordings as early as 1949’s “Rock Awhile” by Goree Carter. Guitar playing style and guitar sound went hand in hand in developing new styles of music. James Cotton’s guitarist Pat Hare is credited for developing rockabilly on the song “Love Me Baby” and the heavily distorted guitar on “Cotton Crop Blues” was a likely major influence on the development of British Invasion blues style (to be discussed in Chapter Four). While a distorted sound could be achieved with overdrive, damaged amps could also give a nice buzz to the sound. Dislodged speakers cones, loosened vacuum tubes, and even slashed or punctured speaker cones could create distortion. The Kinks made the slashed speaker cone sound a hit in 1964 with “You Really Got Me”.

By 1960, a radio technician working for Lee Hazelwood, who was a producer and song writer recording with Duane Eddy, developed a device that could give the guitar a fuzzy sound. Guitarist Al Casey used the first built fuzz box on what may well be the first song to use such a device, “Go On Home”, released in March 1960. The song, however, would not make much of a buzz in the music scene, pun intended. That would occur almost a year later when an accident occurred during a recording. Most interestingly, it was not while recording the guitar for a rock and roll number but during the recording of a bass solo in a country western ballad.

Recording engineer, Glen Snoddy was in the studio with Marty Robbins recording “Don’t Worry” (at 1:29 the solo comes in). The bass guitar was played by Grady Martin and unusually a bass solo was to appear in the song. As the story goes, a transformer blew out in the mixing console, resulting in the bass guitar having a unique fuzzy sound. Opinions were expressed about fixing the problem and re-recording the solo or keeping it as it had turned out. In the end, the fuzzy sound was kept and the song released in January 1961. By February it was the #1 song on the country charts. Grady Martin used this fuzz tone effect on several recordings and it became popular among Nashville-area country western guitarists. Glen Snoddy fixed the problem with his mixing console but also decided to create a small box that could replicate the fuzz sound. This device he later sent to Gibson and the Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz Tone pedal became the first commercially available fuzz box.

In 1961, pedal steel player and electronics technician, Orville Rhodes created a fuzz circuit for studio recording. The box had a distortion level knob and a bypass switch. Though Rhodes’ fuzz box never went into production, he made several of them for other musicians.

Over the next few years, the fuzz tone would appear on a number of rock recordings. The appeal on the fuzz tone was that it was different from the warm buzz of overdrive. It had an otherworldly sound to it. Session guitarist Billy Strange used a Rhodes fuzz box on the 1961 Ann Margaret recording “I Just Don’t Understand” and Nokie Edwards of The Ventures was using a Rhodes fuzz box in late 1961. The sound was featured on “2000 Pound Bee” in 1962. The Beatles were seen using a Maestro Fuzz-Tone in the studio in 1963. By 1965, the first British fuzz box was brought to market: the MKI Tone Bender.

By now, guitarists had become fascinated by the possibilities of fuzz tone. One of The Who’s earliest recordings – “Bald Headed Woman” – features a fuzz-toned guitar in the intro, allegedly played by Jimmy Page because, according to the notes in the compilation album “Two’s Missing”, “He was the only one in the country with a fuzz box”. Jeff Beck used one on several Yardbirds’ recordings in 1965, most popularly on their single “Heart Full of Soul” but perhaps most effectively on the instrumental “Someone to Love Part 2”. However, it was Keith Richards fuzz toned riff on the Rolling Stones’ 1965 hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” that kicked off the fuzz tone craze. Gibson fuzz boxes sold out in a jiffy. This spurred the development and production of other fuzz boxes as well.

The fuzz tone’s popularity had begun in the country western world but was quickly brought into distortion-loving rock and roll. With garage rock already primed for guitar distortion effects, two more developments of paramount importance in rock and roll would ultimately lead to the birth of heavy metal. The first of these is the British Invasion, to be discussed in Chapter Four.

For further reading about the history of the fuzz box:

The Big Muff

The History of the Fuzz Pedal

50 Years of Making Fuzz

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

Most documentaries and accounts of the history of heavy metal music will mention the debut album by Black Sabbath as the first instance of the popular music sub-genre. Others will report initial stirrings of the style in the psychedelic years of the late sixties. As the 1960’s began, two new forms of American popular music helped contribute to the future of guitar-based rock.

Chapter Two: Surf Rock and Garage Rock

While teen romance and girl bands along with Motown began claiming the pop charts around 1960, two new styles of music were about to capture the attention of guitar rock fans. The first was that of surf music. Originating in California but later expanding across the States and even across the Atlantic, surf rock emerged thanks to the popularity of guitar instrumental music by bands like the Ventures. Though when it comes to surf music most people think of the Beach Boys and their memorable vocal harmonies, it was guitarist Dick Dale whom most historians believe created the genre.

Dick came from a multi-ethic background which included Lebanese, and his love for Middle Eastern music and Eastern scales found their way into his unique style of guitar playing. Dick Dale and the Del Tones played a number of instrumental pieces, many of which were built on the Eastern sound that was part of Dale’s musical psyche. “Misirlou” is probably his best recognized initially hugely popular on the surf music scene in the early 60’s and later enjoying a revival after it was used as the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s movie “Pulp Fiction”. Dick played fast and has been said to be the grandfather of heavy metal because he played an early style of shredding by double picking the strings (for “Misirlou” he apparently played it all on one string only). Dale also contributed to the heavy sound by playing with a thick-bodied Fender stratocaster and used thicker strings than standard for guitars. With lots of reverb he created a “wet” sound that was meant to capture the sound he heard when surfing.

In addition to speedy playing on thicker strings, Dale also spoke to Leo Fender about making the first 100 watt amplifier because Dale kept blowing up Fender’s amps. Furthermore, Dale was quite a showman with the guitar. All these contribute to his performances being regarded as a precursor to heavy metal. Play loud. Play fast.

Surf music wasn’t all blazing guitar instrumentals. Many bands recorded songs with lyrics. But surf songs were not going to lay any foundations for metal with cheery songs about sunshine and waves in good harmony. It took another new form of music to bring heavy metal a step closer to realization.

By the early 1960’s, many youngsters dreamed of starting a rock and roll band and in the suburbs, the best place to rehearse was in the garage. Electric guitar, bass guitar (which was a relatively new instrument and picked up by not only surf rock and garage rock bands but also by country western bands as well), drums, and vocals, along with the occasional organ or saxophone, young musician hopefuls took fifties hits and churned out their versions with amplified guitars.

The riff rock song became king as the garage rock movement began. “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen became one of the most recognizable songs of the day. It was not, however, the song itself but the influence it had across the Atlantic that would make history. The story goes that Ray Davis of The Kinks was trying to play “Louie Louie” and came up with the guitar riffs for both “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night”. Played with a new sound he’d created by slicing an small amp’s speaker cone with a razor blade, Davis created two of the first power chord riff-based, distorted guitar rock songs with wild guitar soloing. These songs in turn inspired The Who’s Pete Townshend to compose “I Can’t Explain” which was not as hard and heavy in the guitar sound but still and important riff rock song.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A., The Sonics were finding their own way to damage their speakers and creating their own riff-based rock with plenty of vigor. Like most garage rock bands, The Sonics started out doing mostly covers; however, in 1964 they recorded “The Witch”, a heavy rocker of the time if there even was one. This was follow a year later by “He’s Waiting” which was not only an excellent proto-metal song with its angry distorted guitar chords but also because the song mentions “Satan”. When The Sonics released their second album in 1966, they had covered “Louie Louie” with a heavy rock version that was so gritty, raw, and powerful not only in the music but with vocals that pushed the red line in the recording studio. The guitar solo too is worthy of praise as it bends and swerves like a viper rather than blazes.

Vocal styles were becoming more daring too as American bands found that they didn’t necessarily have to sing like Elvis, and a good number of bands with strange vocal styles – anywhere from shouting to rough singing – began gaining popularity. Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Seeds, and many others found success with this new approach to rock. However, both surf rock and garage rock were about to be joined by another new take on rock and roll. For as another Paul Revere is alleged to have said, the British were coming. But before that, a very important piece of equipment that would be vital to the sound of heavy metal was invented by accident.