A brief history of metal music to today

“In 1964 something totally unexpected happened. I got a job I enjoyed.” Ozzy Osborne. 

Metal music is characterised by heavily distorted guitar chords and riffs, extra low-range bass notes, powerful drumming, and accompanied by throaty vocals. An element of speed is also sometimes included during play in the song tempo or via shredding the guitar fast to show off the player’s dexterity. While the roots of metal music can be traced back to the 1950s, many consider Black Sabbath worthy of the title heavy metal music first band. The band brought to the stage a novel way of composing songs and performing. In the 60s, heavy metal offered a voice to negative emotions in people’s minds and bodies, leading to its acceptance by millions of young listeners.

The basic origin of the term heavy metal seems to come from a novel. William Burroughs had a character in one of his novels with the nickname “the heavy metal boy,” suggesting the term comes from the 19th century. The term first appeared in lyrics of a song in the “Born to be Wild” album by Steppenwolf in 1970. But music critics were using the term heavy metal to describe a unique and specific style. In the 1970s, the history of metal music took a new turn as it spread through musical minds all over the world, earning a place of honour in most continents.

Yailbirds performing

Metal music legends and heroes

Bands of the mid-1960s provided the foundations for heavy metal. Bands like The Yailbirds, Cream, and The Jeff Beck Group along with professionals such as Jimi Hendrix are famous for introducing the world to the first sounds of metal music.

The new music trend diverted rock music to a heavy approach that leads to the development of the heavy metal movement. Black Sabbath incorporated the heavy genre with characteristic elements that opened the way for others to join the list of heavy metal bands. Pioneer metal music bands include the likes of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, who moulded heavy metal into what we know today.

The rebirth of metal music

The 1980s heralded the birth of metal’s second generation. British bands such as Diamond Head, Saxon, Motorhead, and Iron Maiden created and promoted a new heavy metal band. While still inspired by the forefathers, the new music cut out influences of the blues and instead incorporated British punk elements from the 1970s. The result is an aggressive bombastic and fast sound. Iron Maiden was one of the pioneers of theatrical stage shows that accompany their music, increasing the genre’s popularity beyond England. In the 1980s, heavy metal was widely accepted across mainland Europe and both North and South America.

By the 90s, metal’s domineering influence faded thanks to the growing popularity of alternative rock. Bands that fused heavy metal and alternative rock gained momentum, creating a new genre called alternative metal. Some bands include Jane’s Addiction, White Zombie, Alice in Chains and others. The formation of Ozzy Osbourne’s Ozzfest metal music festival in 1996 sparked the debate on the resurgence of heavy metal.

Electric Guitar
Festival performer in blue light

Metal music from the 2000s

While a considerable number of metal genres are still underground, the overall metal scene is still very active thanks to dedicated fans. Bands in the 1990s and 2000s, such as Strapping Young and Gojira, built on and perfected the work of predecessors. Reunions such as those by Black Sabbath and Judas Priest helped turn the interest of a younger audience to the older bands. By the early 2010s, metal music bands and festivals were bringing in enormous crowds.

There you have it. Decades later, this ever-evolving musical genre brings together masses at metal festivals in Europe and all over the world. While describing metal music can be hard, we paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart; you cannot define heavy metal, but you know when you hear it. There are might be many technical and nuanced differences between the ever-increasing metal subgenres, but it is all heavy metal in the end. Based on the history of metal music worth of decades, the genre is showing no signs of slowing down soon.