Let’s lead with the documentary, and then come back around to the discussion: VH1’s “Heavy – The Story Of Metal” is a four-part documentary from 2006. 42mins per episode, 2hrs 48min total runtime.
Heavy – The Story Of Metal – Episode I : Welcome To My Nightmare
Heavy – The Story Of Metal – Episode II : British Steel
[I feel compelled to add one comment at this point: 80s hair bands can go die in a fire.]
Heavy – The Story Of Metal -Episode III : Looks That Kill
Heavy – The Story Of Metal Episode IV : Seek & Destroy
Heavy metal (or simply metal) is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom and the United States. With roots in blues rock and psychedelic rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness. Heavy metal lyrics and performance styles are often associated with masculinity, aggression and machismo.
The first heavy metal bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath attracted large audiences, though they were often derided by critics, a status common throughout the history of the genre. During the mid-1970s, Judas Priest helped spur the genre’s evolution by discarding much of its blues influence; Motörhead introduced a punk rock sensibility and an increasing emphasis on speed. Bands in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal such as Iron Maiden and Saxon followed in a similar vein. Before the end of the decade, heavy metal fans became known as “metalheads” or “headbangers”.
During the 1980s, glam metal became a commercial force with groups like Mötley Crüe and Poison. Underground scenes produced an array of more extreme, aggressive styles: thrash metal broke into the mainstream with bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax, while other styles of the most extreme subgenres of metal like death metal and black metal remain subcultural phenomena. Since the mid-1990s, popular styles such as groove metal (e.g. Pantera), which blends extreme metal with hardcore punk, and nu metal (e.g. Slipknot), which often incorporates elements of grunge and hip hop, have further expanded the definition of the genre.
SO. Metal is not Punk (the Punk post; and playlist) as Punk’s roots are in Rockabilly and the ‘first generation’ of guitar-driven rock that predated Elvis and the Beatles, and found later expression (post British invasion) in the so-called Garage Rock of the later 60s.
Metal and Punk are still cousins, though: they have common ancestors in harder-flavoured Blues Rock (The Kinks, The Who, The Animals, The Yardbirds, The Small Faces, The Pretty Things, Them, and The Rolling Stones — per wiki — “Tall Cool One (1959) by The Fabulous Wailers and Louie Louie by The Kingsmen (1963) are mainstream examples of the genre in its formative stages.”)
Fans of Metal and Punk usually hate each other, and each other’s favorite bands, so that’s the easiest way to tell the two groups apart.
From my own listening (and so, obviously, my opinions):
First, there was Rock (50s greaser style — Little Richard, Chuck Berry, “Shake, Rattle and Roll”, “Rock Around the Clock”) which was already an amalgamative art form and heralded not just the emergence of youth culture but also the initial appropriation, commercialization, and mainstreaming of what was then called Black music — a process that actually began with Ragtime and Dixieland Jazz. “Rock and Roll” (a euphemism) differed from Jazz because it was a ‘return to roots’ — by the late 40s Jazz was performed by ‘orchestras’ and ‘big bands’ and was played in dance halls and on the radio — and was going on 50 years old at that point. Jazz was Hollywood, Broadway, mainstream. Jazz was big city clubs. ‘Jazz’ was New York, Chicago, RCA, and RKO.
The smaller shacks and bars that housed the blues artists and the 2nd-class ballrooms of the Chitlin’ circuit kept alive a separate strain of Jazz music, one that eventually became Rhythm and Blues — and over the following 50 years (from 1940) that root of Rhythm and Blues became roughly 90% of my favorite music, including Soul, Funk, modern R&B, and Blues Rock in many different flavours. (One can strain an ear muscle trying to find 12-bar blues in modern Nordic death metal, but Led Zeppelin is there to form that bridge.)
Whenever ‘modern’ music gets too stale, artists inevitably go back to the Blues well.
Previously on the blog Punk music got its own post. If you go back into the music documentary tag on this blog, you’ll note I’ve already covered a lot of 60s Soul and Rock, some Funk, with glancing blows at both Disco and Southern Rock. Starting from the 70s: Prog Rock, Arena Rock, New Wave, College Alternative, Grunge, Jam bands — these are all topics I’d like to get to.
All that is ‘Rock’: Metal derives from rock, but Metal is different.
Modern metal is raw, organic — but also distorted, loud, growl-ly, in-your-face and up-yours. Metal is even more modern than the Post Instrument music of chips, synths, and samples. Modern pop tracks are assembled from hooks and grooves; completely artificial but designed to be musical, danceable, memorable — earworms you hum to yourself all day.
One does not dance to metal so much as one thrashes and bounces and fights and reacts to the overwhelming energy; you don’t sing a metal song in the shower, you grunt and headbang it.
Metal quickly lost it’s edge. KISS were the pioneers who sold out — Alice Cooper is amazing but almost no one — no one in the rock or metal spheres — bothered to follow his lead. The Punks copped his attitude, the Progs ripped-off his stage show, and KISS did Alice almost better than he could, and sold dolls and lunch boxes to the kids besides.
I’m surprised KISS didn’t kill the music outright, but then, hell: KISS has some pretty good songs, and the 70s were weird all around. No fault, no blame. (Glam bands, power ballads, and MTV came around 10 years later and that ruined the genre. In 1992, Grunge—metal in all but name—came along to drive some final nails into its coffin.)
It is continually surprising to me how Metal can claim to be [cough][grunt] “Hardcore” [unh] when so much of their history, identity, and aesthetics are either directly based on or quickly devolve into self-parody. This Is Spinal Tap was released in 1984; the bands they so expertly skewered weren’t all metal (plenty of arena rock and prog are set up for equal blame&shame) but from The Black Album to Spinal Tap’s actual albums (each charting higher than the last) I’m not sure where the music starts and where the jokes end anymore.
Even when modern artists are pretty clear on the social issues and are trying to make a point, it seems the metal fans moreso than others just pick up and chime in on the chorus, “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me.”
The musical origins of Metal are the same as the rest of Rock, the artists just do it harder, faster, and turned up to 11.
The origin of the term, though, is 42 seconds into “Born to be Wild” by Steppenwolf.
there are many other theories — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_metal_music#Etymology — I think this is a case where a lot of different, sort-of-related threads were pulled together and then a name was collectively agreed upon. Barry Gifford, in the 11 May 1968 issue of Rolling Stone, gets credit for getting the term “heavy metal rock” into print first. I can’t embed a song for that, though — oh wait, I can: Gifford was reviewing the album A Long Time Comin’ by Electric Flag
[definitely late-60s-blues-rock, but more soul than metal, if you ask me. there’s even a horn line.] [also, the use of the term in the ’68 Rolling Stone review strongly implies that “heavy metal rock” as both a term and a ‘thing’ already exists and is something the reader would recognize.]
So much rock music that I love is considered metal (or proto-metal) these days, I’m honestly surprised I don’t like typically ‘metal’ artists. The further metal gets from “Rock” Rock and Blues Rock, though, the less I like it. Also, 80s hair bands can go die in a fire.
Heavy-metal music is also a surprising indicator of countries’ economic health – though I’d say this is solely due to the popularity of metal in Norway (an outlier on both counts) and is not a sign of direct correlation or causation.
For intrepid music explorers who’d like to research more on this topic, I’ll just point out that Nordic Folk Metal is a thing.