Heavy metal or metal is a musical style with certain compositional attributes without which it cannot be classified as heavy metal. However, more than any of that, it is a set of ideas which shape its composition and without those it can ‘’sound like’’ metal but would not fit the whole profile of heavy metal. Metal has its roots in blues rock and psychedelic rock and this genre developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s largely in the United Kingdom and United States. Heavy metal has a thick, massive sound characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos and overall loudness. The bass plays a prominent role in this kind of music and the interplay of bass and guitar is an essential component of this genre.
Heavy metal is characterized by such high shrills that have the capacity to pierce your eardrums. Add to this the combination of distortion and shredding on the guitar and ruthless slapping on the bass. Now add double bass drums and cymbals crashing everywhere. Top this with lyrics deeper than a poem and voice switching between angelic notes and devilish screams. Now you have metal.
This genre is known for its desire to escape the cognitive dissonance (social pretense) reaction to modern life. Metalheads (heavy metal fans) believe that the individual is basically powerless, except in future time when all the predictions about the negative nature of modern society would come true. It is a genre which tries to find beauty in darkness, order in chaos, wisdom in horror and restoring humanity to a path of sanity by paying attention to the ‘’heavy’’ things in life. Metal is further divided into sub-genres (extreme metal, glam metal, gothic metal, groove metal) which are very different from conventional rock ones and in turn create a unique metal musical language.
Heavy metal emerged as a distinct musical form with the first proto-metal introduced in 1970 by Black Sabbath while others believe that it was Led Zeppelin which should be considered as the first heavy metal band. Other commentators also argue that groups like Iron Butterfly, Steppenwolf and Blue Cheer should be given equal credit.
Black Sabbath created a new style of music which was influenced by extreme rock and horror movie music that was strung together by power chords which gave the music a dense and morbid atmosphere. The music was called ‘’heavy’’ because of the sensations of dark realism and confrontation with reality hidden beneath the human world formed due to the consensual reality of socializing, laws and morals. Proto-metal brought forth the insignificance of the individual, the brutality of life and the ominous unknown of the future. While rock bands wrote about personal and political topics, proto metal talked about the broader worlds of history, mythology and metaphysics.
Metal as a Concept
Metal is a composition rather than a specific music theory which is quite unique to metal but is also found in classical music. It believes in aggressively doing right without references to individual preferences. Metal culture is not counter culture but rather a rejection of it and a rejection of mainstream culture and establishment alike.
The music instantly attracted those who thought the 1950s and 1960s culture to be unrealistic and boring. In the wake of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) and Judas Priest’s breakthrough British Steel (1980), heavy metal became increasingly popular. They also benefited from the exposure which they received on MTV. Heavy metal made the rock elites look retrograde and completely replaced it when the first Black Sabbath album reached number 8 on the UK charts and number 23 in the USA. Bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden were riding on an all-time high. There was a general high quality of music, big selling albums and hugely successful tours characterized the decades of the eighties.
Decline in Popularity
Metal shifted phases throughout the 70’s and 80’s. With hair metal and speed metal being the proponents in 80’s and emergence of bands such as Twisted Sister, Poison. The era of metal dominance came to an end with the emergence Grunge in Seattle with the beginning in the 90’s when bands like Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and many other grunge bands which ushered in the popular breakthrough of alternative rock. Other commentators also conclude that the greed of recording labels and the extensive promotion of metal bands which were not really that good backfired and led to a lot of discontent amongst the audiences and the genre was losing out on its fans. Black Sabbath lost its popularity after the departure of singer Ronnie James Dio. Judas Priest went down after the release of Turbo and their experiment with pop metal turned a lot of audiences off. Iron Maiden’s 1990s tour was nothing compared to their earlier highly successful tours and most of the classic bands from earlier decades had lost much of their charm.
New wave of American Heavy Metal (NWOAHM)
This was a movement which originated in the 1990s and stretched till the mid-2000s. It has its roots in several post-grunge acts of the 1990s. This is a later reference to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). This movement is basically credited with bringing metal back into the mainstream after its decline. Some of the famous bands include Slipknot, Machine Head, Pantera and so on. The definition however, is still not complete because of the continuous addition of bands which adhere to this label that is, NWOAHM and metal continues to thrive in the music industry.
Safe to say, metal is here to stay. A genre of music as powerful and as emotional as metal will not and can not fade out. Metal has seen a lot of changes during its life, and will continue to see them until time ends. If not the new bands, bands such as Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Rainbow, Mettalica, Iron Maiden and others will still be seen as the face of metal.
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