The Origins of Heavy Metal Music

Heavy metal is a subgenre of rock music that emerged in the 1970s as a formative musical style. Heavy metal is driven by the aggressive sound of distorted electric guitars and the commercially successful rock genre. The origin of the term “heavy metal” is attributed to the writer William Burroughs, but its use dates back to the nineteenth century when he spoke of “guns of power”.


Heavy metal subgenres have their own stylistic variations from the original form, with many of these features omitted or altered. This type of music is characterized by guitar and drums dominating the sound, with strong rhythms and classical, bluesy and symphonic styles. The roots of metal music are rooted in hard rock, but bands from 1969 to 1974 mixed blues and rock to create a thick and heavy guitar and drum-centered sound characterized by amplified guitar sounds and distortions.

It is not clear how appropriate the term heavy metal is for loud rock music, although several claim the term for themselves. Some claim that rock music critic Lester Bangs, who works for Creem magazine, first used the term to describe performances by the bands MC5 and Motor City Five in 1968, but I have not found documentary proof of that. Some cited a description of Jimi Hendrix’s music as “hearing heavy metal fall from the sky,” which might be a more accurate estimate of whether or not this was the earliest use of the word.

Examples of music associated with disturbing and dangerous acts can be found in the case of Band Slayer. Norwegian Black Metal is an extreme form of heavy metal music based on distorted guitars and vocals, associated with murder, arson and cannibalism (Moynihan and Soderlind, 2003). To highlight the alarming nature of the actions associated with this music, teachers want to provide examples of bands like Mayhem whose lead singer committed suicide in the 1991 band’s recording studio.

Popular Bands

Many late 70s hard rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and AC/DC made the transition to a more aggressive metal sound in the early 80s and their discographies represent a fast and steady evolution of that sound. Other late 1970s major efforts included a new sound including Scorpion’s Lovedrive 1979 album and Saxon’s self-titled debut in the same year, both of which existed on the fringes of the hard rock genre, but which were heavily mixed with heavy metal. A handful of other bands played various music styles, most particularly Sabbath, but the doom rock tracks they published in the second half of the decade were immediate and direct forerunners of true heavy metal.

While Judas Priest did not have a top 40 album in the US in the 1980s, they are for many the definite heavy metal band post-Sabbath, as their double guitar attack featured rapid tempi and a non-bluesy, metallic sound that had a big impact on later acts. The aesthetic was in the vogue by the mid-1970s : mythical beasts, moody bass, complex dual guitars, thin lizzy stagecraft, Alice Cooper sizzling guitars and striking vocals, queen thunder, medieval questions and rainbows, but Judas Priest came to unite and amplify the varied highlights of the hard rock sound palette. With the exception of Judas Priests, metal ushered in the transition to a lighter hard rock sound in the 1980s and entrusted the task of constructing heavy metal to other artists.

Bands That Paved the Way

Metal entered uncharted territory with its musical ideas following hard rock, whereby the emphasis on volume and distortion became a vision of power that resonated with its predominantly male fan base. The ancestors of genres in the late sixties and early seventies were not giants like Cream, Zeppelin and Deep Purple, but iconic heavy bands like Mountain, Captain and Sir Lord Baltimore, who created some of the most unruly metal moments on their LPs and made folky, bluesy dissents from the maximalism that characterized the genre before the Rolling Stones ruled them. The Rolling Stones were the same bands that specialized in hyper-charged rock ‘n roll like AC / DC and Guns’Roses but lacked the” X factor “which separates their music from metal.

In the coming years they were to become true pioneers of metal music with their stadium rock tours, which culminated in a performance at Rockin at the Fillmore in 1971. Sunshine of Your Love, an iconic and classic heavy rock anthem, is an influence that goes deeper than is expressed by the fact that it is a melody that can be heard on film soundtracks and an abundance of Rock’Roll compilations.


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