How did it all start?
It is difficult to say today who was the first to start playing heavy metal. Among the pioneers of this trend, we can name Cream, Blue Cheer, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Mountain. All of these bands were performing the so-called early metal. And Black Sabbath stands out from this crowd as a progenitor of the truly heavy metal. This group is associated with the name of Ozzy Osbourne and the author of the first heavy metal compositions – Tony Iommi. Tony was a master of guitar riffs. Due to a finger injury, he was forced to lower the pitch of the guitar, which led to heavier riffs. His playing was a masterpiece, with its melody flowing through your veins and striking a crushing blow right to your heart. It was demonic music. It was an old blues technique – a lowered fifth step or the tritone interval. In the Middle Ages, it was forbidden to play music with elements of this interval. It was believed, this sound can awaken wrong impulses in a person’s soul. And thanks to Black Sabbath, almost every heavy metal song includes this element. The sound of their guitars, which added an element of gloom and mysticism to the music due to certain chords, is considered a classic sound in heavy metal music.
Distinctive features of metal music
Heavy metal is characterized by tangible aggression, the fast or medium tempo of performance, breaking sounding of instruments, where the main role is assigned to the lead guitar. The virtuoso riffs of the electric guitar are accompanied by a distinctly high level of vocals and distortion.
Distortion is an unbalanced guitar sound and the main feature of the heavy metal style.
It is believed that metal is the embodiment of energy, style, strength and masculinity. The lyrics often contain philosophical questions, themes about war and the Apocalypse, and even love.
Band composition is usually limited to two or three guitars (solo, rhythm, and bass), drummer and vocalist. Some songs use rhythm guitar solos to make the sound louder and more powerful.
The role of the guitar in metal music
Hard rock is the father of metal music. The main difference between these styles is the heaviness of the guitar riffs that you clearly hear in metal compositions. You will also notice the increased density of the rhythmic pattern and shrill vocals. Nevertheless, the guitar remains the leading instrument. True metal bands always include at least two guitarists, who take turns playing rhythmic and solo parts. And to maximize the effect, they sometimes play one part together.
With the development of the electric guitar, it became possible to distort and synthesize sounds, as well as add various effects. With the help of fuzz and distortion effects, as well as the use of guitar processors, the musicians could produce extremely powerful and sharp sound, reminiscent of a metal grinding.
Guitar solos and complex riffs are central to the style. Thus, in every metal band there are usually two leaders – a guitarist and a vocalist. The bassist’s role has also changed. In metal styles, the bass guitar is not limited to the background. It has its own weighting part, and can often give out its own solo.
The development of metal
Many experts believe that the creation of heavy music belongs to the group Led Zeppelin. It was the author of blues compositions that had a metallic sound. These were followed by lead riffs from Black Sabbath. Its compositions were filled with a heavy sound, covered in a narcotic fog and the spirit of the occult.
In the 70s in America, heavy metal musicians started its gradual change. The compositions became more dynamic, filled with energy. The leading role was performed by a long guitar solo. Significant attention was paid to vocals – preference was given to a high voice.
The first wave of metal music is the bands Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Motorhead. The lyrics of the compositions also reflected the masculine style. These are mainly military and mystical topics.
By the 80s of the last century, heavy metal was recognized and widespread in Europe. In the United States by this time, many bands were formed, playing riffs at incredible speed. Many of them played compositions without a soloist, and found popularity on a par with those who used vocals.
By the same period, the aesthetics of metal also changed. The musicians changed the style, which previously resembled hippies, to one that was close to the modern and familiar to us today. The pioneer of the style is considered to be the lead singer of the group Judas Priest Rob Halford. Besides traditional rocker’s attributes – tight pants, leather jackets, chains and bandanas, musicians began to grow their hair, decorate their bodies with tattoos, and their clothes with thorns and fatal symbols.
Metal music is also associated with a characteristic finger gesture – hand-horns. The first to use it on stage was Black Sabbath. The gesture was enthusiastically received by fans, and quickly became a symbol of metal.
With the development of the genre, there was a conditional division into directions characterized by the style of play.
Varieties of metal music
This music style has undergone many modifications. In the 70’s, was a more or less solid style. In the 80’s, heavy metal reached its peak of popularity. And only then it gave rise to more extreme forms. And in the 90’s, it mixed with other genres of music. At the moment, there are more than a dozen of its metal subgenres. Let us have a look at the most popular ones.
Avant-garde metal collected a bit of everything – you will find elements of progressive, symphonic, folk and some other metal directions. Here you can experiment as you like with sounds, instruments, and song structure. The avant-garde metal was born in Switzerland and Norway. Musicians engage a variety of instruments, from all types of guitar and to the synthesizer, violin, and drums.
Alternative metal started to spread at the beginning of the 1990s. It is a combination of heavy metal with alternative rock (you will even find elements of indie rock here). This subtype is famous for its heavy guitar riffs together with some other features of this music – nontrivial lyrics and exclusive techniques.
Black metal emerged in the early 1980s after the release of the Venom album. This genre became especially widespread in the 1990s in Norway. This genre is recognizable by distorted raw sound, regular use of blast beats, which makes it quite close in musical terms to death metal. Vocal parts are featured by screaming or growling.
Viking metal appeared in 1988 in Sweden. As it is clear from its name, this style is characterized by the lyrical and thematic elements of songs performed in the Viking style. Most performers of this genre were native Scandinavians and Germans, and they used motifs of Scandinavian epic. It is common that the songs do not rhyme and it is the main feature of old Scandinavian ballads that were transformed into metal.
Glam metal originally was developed in the US. Its representatives followed the famous hard-glam bands such as SLADE, KISS, AEROSMITH, hard rock and roll AC/DC and SAXON, soft metal SCORPIONS, pop hard FOREIGNER. But glam metal acquires extravagant elements and more peaceful lyrics about love.
Gothic metal genre successfully combines melancholy with a heavy metal sound. The style was widespread in the mid-1990s. The main characteristics of the genre are low tempo, gloomy guitar parts, female vocals. Gothic metal performers exploit darkly romantic, gothic aesthetics.
Grind metal (grindcore) is one of the hardest metal music directions that appeared as a result of the combination of crust-punk and thrashcore. As its name suggests, the genre is based on distortion, tuning the guitars to the lowest tones. Grind metal has almost no melodies, and they are extremely simple and monotonous.
Dark metal sub-style started to form in the late 80s and was on its rise in the mid-90s. You will find the first albums of this style in many European countries and in the US. Dark metal is most often characterized by a combination of features of aggressive sub-styles of metal music: black, death and doom metal with an occult atmosphere. The lyrics tend to address themes of despair.
Doom metal is an extremely hard style of metal. It uses classic metal instruments: guitar, bass and drums. Thus music is rather dull and very monotonous, slow and not always pleasant to the ear. Doom bands aimed to recreate the classic Sabbath style, appealing primarily to the compositions of Paranoid, Iron Man, etc.
Death metal has been defined as a separate music style. At first glance, it has a lot of common features with thrash metal compositions, but still, it is completely different. You can find this style in the albums of such popular bands like Slayer or Celtic Frost. The main peculiarities of their songs are heaviness and fast rhythm, as well as vocals.
Nu metal was developed somewhat later – in the mid-90s. It is a mixture of grunge with groove metal, funk metal, industrial metal, etc. Most bands use nu-metal with different genres. Such an approach gave birth to a whole range of less popular metal subgenres.
Progressive metal developed from progressive rock. It is known for its complex compositions and mysterious playing techniques. This exclusive level of the musicians’ skills is often combined with the conceptual lyric, which resulted in rather lengthy songs and albums.
The list of metal styles is not full. Metal music keeps evolving despite many critics and opponents. Moreover, some recent studies prove that metal music brings many benefits to its fans. The followers of this music style are more open to novelties. Besides, they are usually happier and better adapted to life in society than opponents of heavy music. Despite the somewhat violent lyrical content of metal compositions, their fans do not become susceptible to violence, which nullifies the common belief about the negative consequences of long-term listening to such music.