On Friday the 13th in 1970, history was made. It started with the thunderous cacophony of an A# tritone raining down pure evil through record players everywhere, immediately stirring controversy and unease in the hearts of those ignorant to the sheer brilliance that was being blessed upon them; I’m of course talking about Black Sabbath’s self-titled song off their self-titled record. It was with the dissonance (both in sound and reaction) that Metal had been born. It has been 40 years since its origin and Metal has been in a constant state of change, rebirth, and experimentation, never resting to breathe, never resting in general; Metal was born an evil child, rejected by its fellow musical brethren and has not incorporated itself into all genres of music.
Nowadays, Sabbath is no longer seen as Satanists or devil music (by most), but rather is categorized as Doom/Funeral Metal, but subgenres are to come. The point is Metal rarely remains stagnant and it never will be; Metal (as with most underground music) has the freedom to express radical and extreme views, some so extreme it becomes almost comedic (or in the case of AxCx intentionally comedic and inflammatory.) The best way to present this wonderful and misunderstood genre is to pass through its various roots and explore every cranny within.
“What is this that stands before me”- (Black Sabbath- Black Sabbath) These ominous lyrics are what accompanied the noise emanating from Tony Iommi’s (Black Sabbath’s guitar player) amplifier, ominously delivered by the chilling Ozzy Osbourne. Black Sabbath are considered the pioneers of Doom Metal (and Metal in general), but really they are Classic Metal or in another name, pre-Metal. Pre-Metal consists of a huge number of artists, bands, and even composers, namely German composer Richard Wagner (the man responsible for “Tristan und Isolde” and “Lohengrin”) and Igor Stravinsky, who wrote “The Rite of Spring”. Both composers featured a heavy use of chromaticism (a word used to define the style of using all 12 musical tone as opposed to the normal pentatonic or diatonic scales utilizing only 5 and 7 notes respectively), dark subject matter (“The Rite of Spring” creating the tale of witchcraft and human sacrifice and all of Wagner’s operas dealing in death and betrayal), and a remarkable essence of grandeur in its presentation, always over the top in a charming sense. It was this huge sense of showmanship and controversy that bled into the music of Elvis Presley, The Beatles (older Beatles of course, not the squeaky clean pop band that created “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”), and The Who. The energy of Metal is very much in debt to its predecessors whether modern day “Metalheads” acknowledge this or not; the only exception being the more serious driving force in the actual music itself, but this is to be expected from an almost entirely new genre (then considered a subgenre).
It was after Metal’s birth that paths became split (this happens most of the time in the genre) and two entirely different takes were formed from Black Sabbath’s music; you had the artsy, innovative musicians that wanted progress in the music, they created the appropriately named subgenre Progressive Rock (or Prog for short) and then you had the drug crazed maniacs who wanted a huge, raw, ballsy sound from the music, these men (at this point in time and even nowadays Metal has been a masculine genre) created Shock Rock.
“Hello… Is there anybody in there?”- (Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb) In the early 70’s, after Sabbath had gone a changed the face of Rock forever, groups of people flocked all over to change this newborn genre into something even more unique (and consequentially unpalatable), Prog Rock. King Crimson were among the first to explore the possibilities with the genre, using various tempo, key, and time changes throughout a single song (albeit an extraordinarily long 10 minute song) and expressing the vocals with a very odd falsetto based style, something that would not be normal until the Disco era with the Bee Gees. After Crimson expressed just what Metal could do, another group came along; this group consisted of four no name teenagers screwed up on acids (among other things) by the name of Syd Barret, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright. These trouble youth called themselves Pink Floyd and had an abstract form of music that broke free of King Crimson’s rigid structure and absolute technicality, this music was called Psychedelic Rock (yes, a subgenre within a subgenre); Floyd’s early music was unstructured, sloppy, and improvised on the spot drawing influence from Metal as well as jazz. Simply put, it was the greatest thing ever. As Floyd grew older as a band and Syd Barret’s mental health decreased, they became fronted by Roger Waters, who took the band into a more structured (relatively) and approachable form of music; still Prog at heart, but in a more theatric presentation with the creation of “The Wall”, a masterpiece that played through the life of Pink in the same way a movie would. This revolutionized the way music could be performed even father!
“I wanna Rock n’ Roll all night!”- (KISS, I Wanna Rock n’ Roll All Night) On a totally different end of the spectrum of Prog, a less delicate and proper music was being created, Shock Rock. Shock Rock is as the name implies, electrocuting people shocking people emotionally through use of scare tactics and horrific stage performances; the first man to do this was Alice Cooper, a fan of the Sabbath and horror movies, he blended the interest to take his stage theatrics to the next level, decapitation. Alice Cooper would routinely decapitate himself on stage and spread his “blood” into the crowd; needless to say, people in the 70’s pissed themselves. Cooper liked to follow the old saying “There’s no bad publicity.” and undoubtedly the controversy he stirred launched him into stardom; towns burned, banned, and destroyed his albums, only creating a higher demand for them. Plus, all of the kids had to check out what could freak their parents out to such a ridiculous level, so that they could listen to the records themselves. When a few men from New York saw the attention Cooper was receiving, they decided to hop aboard the money train and cash in on it; thus, KISS was born. KISS was comprised of the members Paul Stanley (Starchild), Gene Simmons (The Demon), Ace Frehley (Spaceman), and Peter Criss (Catman); everyone in the band was fully developed into their new stage personas (except Criss who seems to think cats are scary, come on Criss), dawning black and silver, futuristic costumes and face paint relative to each members name (seriously Criss, Catman?). Musically, the group just took Alice Cooper’s format and made it more of a party, with songs like “I Wanna Rock n’ Roll All Night”, “Love Gun”, and “Detroit Rock City”; the only real difference was the attention was put onto three band members (sorry Criss) instead of one.
It was around the mid-70’s that the raw, energetic form of Rock/Metal took off and ran with its subgenres, while the artsy Prog stayed and explored itself only changing in moderation because all the artists were too busy critiquing each other and trying out pretentious the next guy; also, there wasn’t a terrible amount of money flowing into this particular subgenre as the vast majority of its audience consisted of music nerds. With that being said, after Alice Cooper and KISS strutted into fame with loud, shocking music, others decided to take a crack at it without the makeup.
“Walk this way, talk this way!”- (Aerosmith, Walk This Way) When everyone who saw KISS and Cooper decided makeup was for sissies, Hard Rock was born. What changes took place? How did Hard Rock differ from Shock Rock? The answer is simple, drugs; drugs, drugs, and more drugs. With the addition of cocaine to an already heavy and aggressive music, you got an even heavier and more aggressive type of music, but with cockier performers; so with that, we got Aerosmith and AC/DC. Aerosmith and AC/DC alike had a strong blues rhythm influence, but of course with a loud, obnoxious background from the Shock Rock crowd. Where the two bands differed was in their approach to their musical histories; Aerosmith wasn’t afraid to express their emotional side with ballads and catchy melodies while still keeping true to the raw, aggressive roots of Metal and having solos and shouted vocals. AC/DC on the other hand exclusively shouted/shrieked their vocal lines and had a primal, heavy handed rhythm that did only the absolute necessary. This created yet another divide amongst the subgenre.
Just to keep things simple, a few things happened mid-70’s, the divide of Hard Rock created two subgenres out of that one, but remember that Prog was still in its own world. But something was going to break from Prog and blend with Hard Rock which then created another subgenre (Progressive Metal), but right before Shock Rock died a crazy little thing called Glam (also known as C*ck Rock) emerged, it was basically Shock Rock, but with more “feminine” tendencies and a heavier sound. With that being said, I’ll cover the subgenres briefly.
“…because I’m hot, young, and running free.”- (Mötley Crüe, Livewire) Glam Metal was the small group of guys who realized they could get women by dressing like women and mixing in pop music with the Hard Rock music already out. Mötley Crüe were the only respectable ones in the genre (if you ignore Nikki Sixx’s heroin addiction, Tommy Lee’s Pamela Anderson sex tape scandal, Mick Mars’ general apathy to the wellbeing of the band, the fact that the drummer didn’t matter except for a vehicular manslaughter charge, and the absolute retarded amount of drugs and alcohol they consumed) and the rest of the bands at that time wanted women; pop music gets women, so that about it.
“I am an antichrist, I am an anarchist.”- (The Sex Pistols, Anarchy in the U.K.) Punk is easily described as noise. Crank it to eleven, yell about how the government sucks, and beat the hell out of your instrument for a good two to three minutes. It’s amazing, but simple.
“A peace together, a piece apart”- (Bad Brains, Pay to C*m) Hardcore punk is a self-explanatory subgenre of the Punk subgenre; more angst, more aggression, but surprisingly less anarchy.
“Run to the hills! Rub for your lives!”- (Iron Maiden, Run to the Hills) In America, Hard Rock was the dominate subgenre for Metal, but in Europe it was called something else, Heavy Metal. Heavy Metal was considerably different from most of the Rock that was going on here, with the exception of Aerosmith; Aerosmith had the melodic prowess that all Heavy Metal bands possessed. The most defining point of Heavy Metal that has now become a staple in ALL Metal music nowadays is the use of dual guitars. Before Iron Maiden had two guitar players, most bands just had one guy, but with the addition of a second guitar, more complex melodies could be created and it was like Metal was coming back full circle with Richard Wagner and Igor Stravinsky’s compositions.
“*instrumental*”- (Yngwie Malmsteen, Literally every single self-titled piece he put out) With Yngwie Malmsteen, Metal really had come full circle into classical music… kind of. Of course his music was a reflection of compositions by other composers and he used his guitar as more of a violin, but he really just created a subgenre called Shred; and because Shred doesn’t have enough depth to really be talked about in its own paragraph, it can be summarized here as “Play fast.”
As you can see, a pattern began to form within Metal, “If it’s slightly different, it gets a new subgenre.” This trend still continues today, but I’ll talk about the truly important ones in no real particular order (as that’s really how anything post-80’s was working.)
“Hit the liiiiiiiights!!”- (Metallica, Hit the Lights) Thrash Metal just came out of no real conceivable place; it was a whole new monster that created a whole bunch of other little monsters. Thrash Metal is incredibly fast, with BPM’s (beats per minute) reaching 200 and upwards, incredibly aggressive (most guitar mixes sounded like chainsaws), and unpolished to an absurd amount. There are a “Big 4” in Thrash and these bands are Metallica (the inventors), Anthrax (the Metallica imposters), Slayer (the Grandfathers of Death Metal), and Megadeth (angrier Metallica with faster songs).
“Brutality becomes my appetite.”- (Cannibal Corpse, Hammer Smashed Face) Guess what Death Metal usually revolves around? If you guessed hilariously overblown violence, you were right! Seriously though, Death Metal brought an interesting dynamic to the Metal world and is often cited as the heaviest form of metal, bringing every brutal and technical aspect of the genre and putting it at the forefront of the music; most the musicians in the subgenre are highly skilled in their craft. This music was the first to introduce guttural growls into Metal, which has now become a staple in most of the subgenres today.
“Invoco crentus domini de daemonium.” [translated: I invoke the bloody lord of demons.] (Mayhem, De Mysteriis Dom Satanas [translated: The mysterious master Satan]) Basically, Black Metal came about in two different waves, the first basically being Thrash Metal with lyrics that resembled something out of Dungeons and Dragons and the second being the church burning, God hating heathens. The whole Satanic stereotype given to Metal is all on these guys, but the music itself is quite good. It has a frosty, distant feeling to it that truly emphasizes it’s Norwegian roots and creates a great contrast to the high concentration of Death Metal that was out at the time.
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