Informative Essay about the Roots of Heavy Metal

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Throughout the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, rock had been the number one money producer in the music industry. By the mid 1970’s, people wanted more out of traditional rock music. Artists started exploring different sounds and themes in their music which in turn caused new sub-genres of rock to develop. Some bands developed a more pop-like style which was called ‘new wave’. Although new wave bands were becoming popular on the radio; people still wanted something louder, stronger, and faster. Bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin developed a style with psychedelic rock roots that paved the way for the new genre of rock that was emerging called ‘heavy metal’.

Black Sabbath was a British band that took over rock in the 1970’s. Black Sabbath formed in Birmingham England in 1968. The members consisted of vocalist Ozzy Osbourne (John Osbourne), drummer Bill Ward, guitarist Tony Lommi, and bassist Geezer Butler (Terry Butler). Black Sabbath developed a dark doomy image. Their songs included menacing guitar riffs and sinister lyrics. Their lyrics focused on dark themes and black magic which prevented them from getting played on the radio. Despite their lack of radio play, they toured constantly and became massively popular. By the end of the 1970s they had successfully established their place in rock history by selling millions of albums and became the fathers of heavy metal.

Heavy metal came into the spotlight in the 1970s. Although the prominence of heavy metal didn’t start drawing widespread attention until the 1980s, heavy metal had been a growing underground movement like many other music genres before it. Heavy metal began to appear in the UK and Los Angeles. Iron Maiden, Def Leopard, and Ozzy Osbourne represented mainstream British heavy metal. California hair metal bands such as Metallica, Van Halen and Motley Crue also became popular.

By the mid-1980s heavy metal was everywhere. This popularity and success were largely tied to the success of MTV. MTV is an American television channel that began airing on August 1st, 1981. It introduced a new concept to television and featured music videos that were popular at the time. Hard rock and heavy metal bands such as Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, the Police, and Ratt began to be featured regularly on MTV. These rock bands with their elaborate styles, aggressive music, outrageous stage performances, and constantly testing the boundaries of the music industry caused their popularity to skyrocket and quickly became the keystone to MTV success.

Another band that grew to enormous success during this time was Van Halen. Van Halen was a heavy metal band formed in 1974 in Pasadena, California. The bands members consisted of guitarist Eddi Van Halen, drummer Alex Van Halen, bassist Michael Anthony, and lead singer David Lee Roth. Eddi Van Halen and His brother Alex Van Halen were born in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Their father was a trained jazz musician and moved the family to California in the 1960s. After living in California, they fell in love with rock music and formed a band who was discovered by Gene Simmons of Kiss. Gene Simmons financed their debut album ‘Van Halen’, which premiered in 1978. This album sold millions of records in the US and the band was an immediate success. Van Halen’s performances became famous for the intricate guitar playing of Eddie Van Halen and the flamboyant, outrageous behavior of lead singer David Lee Roth.

As the popularity of heavy metal began to grow, so did the concerns of conservative American parents. In 1985 a committee was formed called the Parents Music Resource Center, or PMRC. The PMRC was founded by four women whose husbands were connected to the government in Washington D.C. These women were Tipper Gore, who is the wife of Al Gore, Sally Nevius, who is the wife of John Nevius, Pam Howar, who is the wife of Raymond Hower, and Susan Baker, wife of James Baker. The goal of the Parents Music Research Center was to increase parental control over music that they felt displayed violence, drug references, or sexually explicit themes by labeling these albums with Parental Advisory labels.

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Many people spoke out against this censorship including Dee Snyder. Dee Snyder is the lead singer and front man for the heavy metal band Twisted Sister. Most people only knew Dee Snyder from his outrageous and exuberant stage performances and were surprised when he sat before the senate hearing and very clearly and articulately defended his music. He stated that he didn’t agree or support the censorship and generic labeling of music that some people found offensive. He explained how his music had been misunderstood and misinterpreted.

Even with the opposition of this Parental Advisory label, the Recording Industry Association of America or the RIAA agreed to put this Parental Advisory label on music they felt was ‘inappropriate’. Some believe this had an adverse effect on record sales because big box stores stopped selling music with this label. Others believe that because this music had a warning label and was hard to get, it made this music that much more desirable. The idea that you want what you can’t have, was thought by many artists to actually increase record sales and was used as a badge of honor.

As the 1980s came to an end, the attraction for the extravagant style and attitude of heavy metal bands also started to come to a close. Music listeners starting to listen to new styles of music such as rap and hip-hop, as well as new styles of rock such as punk, indie rock, and alternative rock. Alternative rock pushed away from the flashy overproduced style of heavy metal. Instead of tight leather outfits, alternative rockers dressed casually. Instead of lengthy elaborate instrumentals, they focused on the basics. Alternative rock rejected the overproduced and visually oriented music that record labels focused on.

One band that launched alternative rock into the mainstream was Nirvana. Nirvana was formed in 1987 in Aberdeen, Washington. Nirvana was formed by guitarist and vocalist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic. Later Dave Grohl joined the band on drums. Nirvana released their first album ‘Bleach’ in 1989. After the release of their first album the band was signed to DGC Records, where they began working on their second album. In 1991 Nirvana released their second album ‘Nevermind’. This album was a massive success. One of the songs featured on the album was ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, which became an anthem of the 1990s.

With the success of Nirvana, record labels began to seek out alternative rock bands in search of the next big thing. Music producers started signing large deals, and soon alternative rock was all over the radio and MTV. Alternative rock had started as a revolt against mainstream music producers. Ironically, by the mid-1990s alternative rock had taken over heavy metal and was now mainstream.

In conclusion, heavy metal, like most music genres before it, came as a demand of the culture. The 1980s were a decade of flashy and ornate excess. As a result, heavy metal bands pushed the boundaries of the music industry and developed a style that stands on its own. Although heavy metal was wildly popular some found it to be inappropriate and dangerous. The PMRC blamed this genre for crime, drug use, and suicide at the time. Fans of this genre state that heavy metals expression of dark and horrific themes are an artistic perception of the world around us. Despite, or perhaps because of its controversy, heavy metal is still revered as one of the most popular genres of rock and made rock the massively popular and lucrative genre it is today.

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Informative Essay about the Roots of Heavy Metal. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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