How Did Heavy Metal Music Start?

how did heavy metal music start

In the 1980s, Def Leppard and Iron Maiden pioneered a “new wave of British heavy metal”, surpassing glam bands such as Guns N’ Roses. Guitarists like Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore-Randy Rhoads duo along with Yngwie Malmsteen brought innovative guitar techniques and styles into this genre.

Glenn Danzig famously integrated metal into his gothic rock with Samhain, while Primus fused punk, funk, and hip hop into their metal sound. Electric guitar amplification plays an integral part in heavy metal.


Heavy Metal’s exact origin is debated, yet its roots can be traced to British industrial town Birmingham during the late 1960s and early 1970s during an economic decline when blue-collar factory jobs were scarce – at this time young men found solace in rock ‘n’ roll and heavy metal as it provided an outlet for their frustrations and angst. Punk also emerged at this time; yet Heavy Metal expressed similar anti-establishment feelings while offering more escapism and fantasy than did Punk.

Heavy metal bands initially combined elements from blues, classical, and rock genres into their music. Their style evolved around guitars and drums with distortion used to produce an oppressive sound. British groups such as Cream and The Kinks pioneered power trio format which would later define heavy metal, yet Black Sabbath became the band that would define and popularise it as the standard in their genre.

Heavy metal music’s hallmark characteristic is its use of repetitive, distorted power chords known as riffs. Vanilla Fudge were known for psychedelicizing pop songs while Emerson Lake & Palmer often employed this style when expressing musical ideas. Furthermore, acclaimed classical guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen has often been described as one of the pioneers of heavy metal as his technical skill and speed made an impressionful statement about what people were after in music terms.

Heavy metal lyrics tend to address themes of darkness, evil, power and apocalypse – concepts which contrast sharply with the popular “peace and love” hippie culture of the 1960s – which focused on peace and love. Heavy metal was therefore seen as a counterculture that focused on negative aspects of life while rejecting pop culture naivete. Some social and religious groups have criticised its themes; its genre has even been associated with drug abuse, violence, suicide attempts, Satanism and sexual perversion.

Heavy metal music evolved as an anagram of “heavy” and “metal,” coined in 1970 by Sandy Pearlman – founder, manager, and songwriter for Blue Oyster Cult – after their heavy distortion effects became part of their sound, taking influence from classic blues, hard rock, progressive styles of 70s-80s classical music, as well as punk. Since then, heavy metal has become the generic term for this genre of music.


Heavy metal music draws its inspiration from many sources that helped develop its early development and define its style. At its roots lies hard rock bands of the mid-1960s who blended blues and rock music to produce an unconventional but heavier form of guitar-and-drums music with heavy vocals ranging from Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant’s growls to Ozzy Osbourne’s growls to help define this musical genre.

Hard rock’s heavy and rhythmic power was an influence in heavy metal’s development, while psychedelic music provided it with an additional source of power, particularly its element of escape from reality through outlandish lyrics and fantastic imagery. While some metal bands such as Jethro Tull crossed over into this arena with songs such as “Aqualung,” most heavy metal was marked by its hard edged sound with harsh vocals shouted into its songs.

Progressive rock band King Crimson’s song “21st Century Schizoid Man” made an invaluable contribution to heavy metal’s development, featuring many key components like its distinctive guitar tone and discordant solo by guitarist Robert Fripp. Additionally, its lyrics – discussing what was wrong with humankind as well as referencing schizophrenic disorders – played an influential role in creating its dark melancholic tone.

Heavy metal was heavily influenced by other music genres, such as punk rock. Both genres shared an anti-establishment tone; however, punk evolved into its own genre that allowed more freedom for fantasy elements than punk did. Many musicians played both genres at one time – such as Mick Jagger who fronted both The Damned and Black Sabbath as well as being part of glam rock movement which relied on anthemic songs and theatrical imagery.

Heavy metal music developed out of these and other musical influences, such as jazz and classical music via progressive rock movement, but its primary influence remains improvisational guitar playing that uses techniques such as tapping, sweep-picking, and other advanced methods that celebrate virtuosity over simplicity. Early heavy metal was often considered controversial due to its loud volumes and often controversial lyrics criticizing religion, unrestrained hedonism, or sexual deviance, leading to numerous social problems both domestically and abroad – particularly among adolescents who listen excessively to such music.


Although the term heavy metal was first coined by Iron Butterfly in 1968 to describe their song ‘Infidel’, its roots go much deeper. Heavy metal emerged out of sixties rock and blues where musicians exploited amplified sound to create louder, discordant and more aggressive music styles such as Blue Cheer’s hit ‘Born to Be Wild’ or Yardbirds track ‘Think About It’ were considered heavy metal in their time – as was Steppenwolf’s iconic track ‘Smoke on the Water’.

As heavy metal evolved, its sound became more rhythmic than melodic with complex riffs played at breakneck speed, led by Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and their many imitators and spin offs. Thrash metal emerged during the mid to late 1980s pushing conventions further with vocal shouting and guitar virtuosity; many bands such as Yngwie Malmsteen and Megadeth utilize advanced techniques like tapping and sweep-picking for rapid playing.

Early heavy metal artists used themes of power, darkness and apocalypse in their lyrics as an in response to “peace and love” hippie culture which focused on more positive messages; additionally this served as a barrier against Neo-Nazism and Cold War ideologies.

Heavy metal music has had an enormous influence on other genres of music as well, from glam rock and hard rock to grunge and even pop music. Additionally, heavy metal has crossed over into psychedelic genres such as pop. Some bands such as Motorhead have their roots in short-lived glam rock era; also, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona was an early heavy metal icon.

Modern heavy metal often incorporates elements of classical music, particularly from Baroque and Romantic composers like Johann Sebastian Bach and Niccolo Paganini, into its sound, often known as neo-classical metal. But there are numerous other ways in which classical elements have been blended with metal music; each genre can be defined by its unique qualities.


Black Sabbath first came into prominence during the late 1960s and early 1970s, using an aggressive sound influenced by blues music to tap into youths living on the edges of society and tap into their frustrations; their music also channelled an anti-establishment spirit while offering escape and fantasy.

Deep Purple were one of the leading groups to push heavy metal further. Their songs featured more intricate compositions and featured intricate guitar solos; furthermore, their use of amplifiers allowed them to play at much louder volumes than any previous band; this marked a huge advancement for heavy metal as it helped expand its audience reach.

At this point, many bands began adapting the heavy metal sound to suit their own styles and audiences, shifting its image away from that of its earliest pioneers such as Alice Cooper, Kiss and Aerosmith who used sleaze and spectacle to market their music to wider audiences – eventually giving rise to what became known as Hair Metal subgenre.

Overkill, a group from New Jersey that incorporates thrash metal into their sound, became one of the best-selling metal albums of all time after the release of Taking Over; other hits from Overkill include Vulgar Display of Power and Cowboys From Hell.

As heavy metal became more mainstream, its influence expanded across different regions. Bands from Europe like Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, and Judas Priest adopted more traditional musical approaches while maintaining the genre’s core sound.

Motley Crue and Poison became widely-acclaimed bands in North America by taking advantage of the more commercial aspects of rock. By using flashy clothing, hairstyles, and stage antics they were able to reach more audiences than their rivals in this genre.

Recent trends in metal music include its incorporation of ancient cultures and themes, particularly Brazilian band Sepultura who have used this approach to great effect, becoming one of the premier acts in groove, thrash and death metal genres. Their albums often include visual art or personal development stories which further highlight this aspect of diversity found within this genre.