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How Heavy Metal Music Rose to Fame

A sub-genre of rock music, heavy metal is characterized by its aggressive attitude and the use of volume and distortion. It includes party anthems from the glam metal bands of the 1980s. Among these bands were Motley Crue and Poison. Heavy metal also includes the drive of speed and thrash metal bands such as Metallica, Pantera, and Sepultura. 

The sludgy and macabre tones of doom and black metal are also a part of heavy metal music. It is the guitar-driven template of rock that unites all of these groups. Besides this, they’re backed by a powerful lead singer whose vocals reflect the sonic power of the instruments used. 

Heavy metal music often symbolizes rebellion against the norms of society in its lyrics. Although there’s an element of aggression in heavy metal, it can be reflective, celebratory, and even inspirational as well.


The roots of heavy metal can be traced back to the mid-1960s. This was the time of British Invasion bands such as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and The Kinks. All of them came up with songs that had distorted and punchy sounds of electric guitar. They were mostly built on blues riff. 

Beyond the British Invasion

In the late 1960s, the psychedelic rock movement set the tone for heavy metal. This was done by expanding greatly on the model of the British Invasion. Jimi Hendrix was an American musician. However, his solo career started in England. He increased volume and distortion, pushing the limits of concert amplifiers and recording equipment. 

Guitar riffs grew more rhythmically repetitive and slower. They were only broken by long bursts of solos with the use of guitar. Drummers kept a booming beat that was constant, while the bassists ensured that a low-end heaviness was maintained.

The first wave

Heavy metal’s first wave emerged from England in the year 1968. This wave was led by three powerful bands – Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple. Led Zeppelin’s highlight was the massive riffs of blues-rock from its guitarist, Jimmy Page. Black Sabbath had Ozzy Osbourne’s unearthly vocals and lyrics that focused on the macabre and supernatural. 

Deep Purple was groove-heavy and was one of the very few heavy metal bands to include an organ. These bands were initially categorized as ‘hard rock’, but eventually came under the label of ‘heavy metal’.

American rockers

The first wave of heavy metal produced some fabulous music that sent ripples through the rock ‘n’ roll landscape. Their style became an instant hit and was adopted by American hard rock bands to varying degrees. Some of them were The Stooges, MC5, Kiss, and Alice Cooper. Groups such as Aerosmith and AC/DC filtered the Rolling Stones through their new heavy metal sound.

New Wave of British Heavy Metal

The heavy metal scene had grown considerably by the 1980s. It included the purist contingent that gave greater significance to multi-guitar attacks and pummeling riffs. These groups were a part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, often abbreviated as NWOBHM. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, and Saxon were some of them. They added elements of biker and gang iconography into the metal lexicon.

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