Origins of Heavy Metal

Music Genres

Published August 18, 2020, 12:00 am CDT

Heavy metal: "It is a musical genre that was born in the mid-sixties and early seventies in the United Kingdom and in the United States, whose origins come from blues rock, hard rock and psychedelic rock. It is mainly characterized by its loud and distorted guitars, emphatic rhythms, bass and drum sounds are denser than usual and generally high-pitched vocals. "

This is a fairly accurate description of Wikipedia, but how was the process to get to that sound? Which bands are the most representative? What impact does it have today?


How did heavy metal come about?

To answer this question we should first talk about the basic elements of sound:

1.- The distortion of the guitar created when the volume threshold of the amplifiers of yesteryear is exceeded. It was not considered aesthetic or desired on the recordings.

Ike Turner was about to record his song "Rocket 88" but on the way to the studio he damaged his Fender tube amplifier, without repair at that moment, he decided to use a single valve and thus the first song with distortion effect was recorded in history.


The distortion was initially extremely dirty, this first approach is called "Fuzz" and to this day there are bands that take advantage of this distinctive sound such as Muse or Nirvana in its time.

2.- The cathartic, virtuous energy of the battery was popularized by characters such as Keith Moon (The Who), Ginger Baker (The Cream) and Jason Bonham (Led Zeppelin).


It also helped to maximize the sound of record productions, the fact that the technology in consoles allowed greater amounts of multitrack recording, as well as adding various effects that enriched the sound quality.

This meant not only that more microphones could be used to record a single instrument, but this audio capture could also be maximized, enhanced, and refined within the audio mix.

We could start talking about a gestation of heavy sound in the sixties, with pieces like "You really got me" by The Kinks (1964) or "Helter Skelther" or "Revolution" by The Beatles (1968), The Cream with " Sunshine of Your Love "(1968) or Jimi Hendrix with the album" Are You Experienced "(1967).


All the songs mentioned above use the distortion effect in the production and the truth is that this effect adds a new dimension to the musical production.

Speaking in abstract terms, what is the best way to represent chaos? Rebellion? Euphoria? Excitement or anarchy? Distortion is certainly a suitable analogy for these emotional goals

There is a very interesting experiment on YouTube where a guitarist records famous metal pieces without distortion and the results are quite comical:


As for the term "Heavy Metal", not everyone agrees, but one of the theories indicates that it came from the 1962 novel "The Soft Machine" written by William Burroughs.

Steppenwolf would use it for the first time in a song in 1968 with the phrase "Heavy Metal thunder", in his song "Born To Be Wild". That song describes very well part of what is considered a "rock / metal attitude":

  • an attitude of rebellion (against the system or religion),
  • a free and carefree spirit, not far from anarchy,
  • hedonism (philosophy that considers pleasure as the end or objective of life).

The truth is that this is a cliché, just like leather pants and long hair. They are simply fads that became popular due to the personalities of the pioneers of the genre.

Currently, I consider among the most important values ​​of all metalheads:

  • discipline
  • and virtuosity

You definitely don't need to wear long hair and leather pants to be a metalhead!

At the end of the 60s, 3 bands emerged that are considered the pillars of Heavy Metal: Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.

Within those three bands, in my opinion, the first genuine heavy metal band is Black Sabbath.


"Paranoid" (1970) or "Children of the Grave" (1971) already show a heavier and more aggressive sound than their predecessors.

The combination of highly distorted guitars, a powerful rhythmic base tied between the bass and drums, as well as a very high register vocalist. The harmony was dark and the themes of his lyrics were sometimes satanic and delusional, a trait that would become the aesthetic of heavy metal for many years.

And, from there, an explosion into a huge multitude of heavy metal subgenres, but that will be the subject of our next article “Heavy Metal sub-genres”.

Metal Evolution Series (2011)
Metal Evolution Series (2011)


So, do you like heavy metal? What is your favorite band?

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