Heavy Metal Music in the 70’s and 80’s

Heavy metal music first gained cultural relevance during the 1970s as an angry genre that promoted masculinity and violence. Fans often perceived its music and fans as being hedonistic or even Satanic, and some bands even displayed devil horns or pentagrams on merchandise they sold.

Black Sabbath’s debut album transformed the still blues-heavy Rock n Roll of late 60s by adding hard rock influences.

Black Sabbath

On February 13th 1970, when Black Sabbath released their self-titled first album it sent shockwaves through the music world. Rejecting the psychedelic rock of their peers, Black Sabbath created dark and brooding music that resonated with heavy aspects of life – its downtuned guitar riffs were created specifically to accommodate Iommi’s injury while Geezer Butler wrote lyrics exploring themes such as horror and the supernatural and Bill Ward provided thunderous rhythms that soon became synonymous with heavy metal music.

Black Sabbath distinguished themselves from Cream by creating more intricate and intense musical arrangements and vocal riffs, taking inspiration from authors like Aleister Crowley, Dennis Wheatley and H.P. Lovecraft for darker themes such as fantasy and the occult.

As they found themselves on tour and engaging in various lifestyle excesses, the demands of touring began to wear on them in the mid-Seventies and their work suffered accordingly. Even so, their next three albums – Sabotage (1975), Technical Ecstasy (1976) and Never Say Die! (1978) still had moments, though no longer reaching the heights of their debut release.

At the time of their last album – Master of Reality (1983) – Iommi had left to form his own group, so for this album they recruited Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan to perform on it as well. Over time, Gillan has stated in interviews that joining only because it paid him.

Iron Butterfly

People often mistake Iron Butterfly for being the pioneers of heavy metal music, but they really weren’t. While they were one of the first bands to utilize distorted guitars and dissonant choruses, rock historians usually credit King Crimson’s ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ with being its precursor because it contained all the hallmarks that would eventually define heavy metal music.

As with the Hippie movement before them, Hard Rock and early Heavy Metal bands embraced long hair that was either dyed in bright colors or braided with braids, as well as extravagant costumes on stage with vibrant makeup and costumes. Leather outfits were worn and their bodies pierced with various forms of jewelry; also featured was an early form of heavy metal guitar style featuring arpeggios played over chord progressions like IVII or Em-to-D chord progressions with arpeggios played across them.

In the 1970’s, Dio and Accept continued their classic heavy metal sound while more extreme bands emerged from underground. Black Sabbath and Metallica pushed heavy metal music further, becoming faster, louder, and more aggressive; dark themes were even explored within lyrics like war and humanity’s inner demons.

New Wave of British Heavy Metal

As disco and prog rock faded into irrelevance, a new force emerged across the Atlantic: heavy metal’s New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). Led by bands such as IRON MAIDEN, SAXON and JUDAS PRIEST, this movement revolutionized music forever – fuelling an incredible movement which would reshape music for decades to come.

The NWOBHM was known for its eclectic sound that combined elements from blues, hard rock and punk influences from their forebearers. Their signature sound consisted of heavy riffing combined with soaring, pseudo-operatic vocals accompanied by lyrics depicting fantasy worlds, rebellion against authority figures and heavy metal lifestyle. Leading acts in this scene such as Saxon embraced pub-rock roots that gave rise to punk music while others such as Def Leppard and Samson turned towards glam rock in pursuit of mass appeal.

MOTORHEAD was one of the cornerstones of this movement with their distinct brand of thrash metal, as their fast-paced songs pushed speed and tempo boundaries and helped establish its distinct identity. PRAYING MANTIS also rose to prominence during this era with their melodic yet hard-hitting songs earning them a dedicated worldwide fanbase and solidifying them as pioneers of metal music.


The 1980s witnessed several bands achieve success through heavy metal music. Many of these groups combined elements from both hard rock and heavy metal into their sound.

At that time, Black Sabbath & Judas Priest were performing at their peak and their music was extremely heavy. Rob Halford from Judas Priest boasted an incredible operatic voice while drummer Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath used fast, intense drumming techniques – this type of music offered a stark contrast to mainstream pop and soft rock that existed at that time.

Rock historians contend that heavy metal’s origins lie partly within a counterculture reaction against hippie culture’s emphasis on peace and love. According to them, heavy metal’s musical form mirrors this by emphasizing blues-influenced reality while its visual component celebrates darkness and power with outlandish lyrics celebrating darkness and strength.

The 1980s also witnessed the development of glam metal and more aggressive styles such as thrash metal and death metal; both subgenres descended from heavy metal originally developed during the 1970s. Their increasing popularity helped broaden its appeal and bring it to a wider audience, while including influences from other genres like grunge and alternative rock music into heavy metal’s overall genre classification.


Heavy metal music is distinguished by distorted guitars, thunderous drum beats and loud volume levels. Its lyrics often depict dark themes such as bloodshed or human misery.

Sandy Pearlman, producer, manager and songwriter for Blue Oyster Cult, claims he created the term “heavy metal” in 1970 to describe their sound. He used elements from blues, psychedelic music and Black Sabbath’s use of pentagram imagery and references in their lyrics as sources for inspiration.

By the 1980s, bands like Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, and Saxon had pioneered a new wave of British heavy metal that quickly rose to popularity in America. But due to grunge’s massive appeal in the 1990s, traditional metal acts began losing many fans who found their major label contracts suddenly being cancelled outright.

Heavy metal evolved during this era into various subgenres, including speed metal and power metal. Bands such as Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy experimented with dual lead guitarists to create harmony and instrumental interplay; vocalists ranged from Rob Halford of Judas Priest and Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden to Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister’s gruff vocals – with many metal acts donning uniforms of leather jackets with long hair (hence “hair metal”) while proudly displaying devil horns or pentagrams to further distinguish themselves from mainstream society.


The 2000s were a pivotal decade for heavy metal, with both veteran bands such as Black Sabbath and newcomers like American hair metal providing an escape-from-reality fantasy through outlandish lyrics and party music; Swedish thrash metal provided more hardcore, cathartic approaches that tapped deeper into blues roots.

While other bands like Ghost pushed the envelope musically, Ghost took an entirely different approach – they focused on classic sounds in an accessible, no-frills style. Their single “Ritual” showcases this talent while exploring doomy 70s metal sounds while creating catchy songs without much extraneous noise.

Following nu metal’s failure, a new wave of bands emerged with their own styles that helped reinvent it for current audiences. Iron Maiden found inspiration in Sabbath’s darkly jagged melodies while Motorhead brought punk rock influence while bands like Korn and Slipknot added post-alt-rock and hip hop sensibilities into their soundscapes.

At the same time, death metal began moving away from violent fantasy lyrics and into more realistic themes like real-life horrors. Venom Prison’s iconic take on grindcore and traditional death metal elements “Uterine Industrialisation” stands out. Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails also played a huge role, injecting self-loathing, revulsion, and theatricality into club anthems like Cradle of Filth and Midian.