heavy metal

heavy metal
   The roots of heavy metal lie in the rhythm and blues movement of the 1960s. Gradually, the basic blues sound became ‘heavier’, with the distorted guitar coming to the forefront. By the early 1970s a distinct sound had evolved, with bands such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple leading the field. Examples of this first heavy metal sound can be found on albums such as Black Sabbath’s Paranoid and Deep Purple In Rock (both 1970). Lyrically, heavy metal regularly retained the subject matter of its precursor—drinking and womanizing—but it also frequently concerned itself with the world of the mystical, and was occasionally accused of being satanic in nature; this image was enhanced by its being the music choice of biker gangs such as the Hell’s Angels.
   In the dress code of the bikers—denim jeans and denim or leather jackets—fans of heavy metal grew steadily in their numbers through the 1970s, and while the music never attained mass popularity (heavy metal singles rarely reached the charts), these fans proved to be steadfastly loyal to the music. By the early 1980s, a second generation of heavy metal bands had come into existence. These bands, christened the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM, by the music press, pushed the guitar further into the spotlight, with ever faster and more complex riffs coming to dominate the music. Chief among the NWOBHM bands were Gillan, Saxon and Iron Maiden. The latter’s The Number Of The Beast album (1982) is perhaps the archetypal example of this sound.
   At the same time as the NWOBHM was at the forefront of heavy metal, another style was developing which concentrated less on musicality and more on sheer speed and power. Bands such as Venom were the pioneers of this sound, which came to be variously known as black metal, death metal and, most popularly, thrash metal. While mainstream heavy metal had gained corporate acceptance, this new style was more underground, with small independent labels such as Neat Records and (later) Peaceville championing the scene. By the early 1990s, thrash metal was a major force within heavy metal and had widened the fanbase, drawing many ex-punks into the scene. The American ‘grunge’ movement has also influenced heavy metal in the 1990s, resulting in many bands turning away from speed and complexity and favouring instead a more traditional rock sound.
   SIMON BOTTOM

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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