What Is Heavy Metal Music?

What is heavy metal music? It’s an umbrella term, applied to a wide array of related music, ranging from classic singer-songwriter hits (like the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Queen, and others) to contemporary hard rock. With a definition so broad, it’s easy to become confused by the many kinds of metal.

Basically, heavy metal is a subgenre of rock that emerged during the late 1960s and early 1970s, with roots in blues-rock and psychedelic music. The influence of this music can be seen in groups like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, who each utilize a variety of hard-hitting guitar solos and choruses, as well as a strong dose of power chords. More recently, doom metal has entered the scene, with lyrics often focusing on end-of-life or doom scenarios, and guitarists who use complex lead guitar techniques. The term “guitar hero” became popular in the latter half of the decade, when groups like Metallica and Prodigy released classic songs using electric guitar and heavy distortion.

The roots of what is now known as heavy metal can be traced back to the African continent. There, tribal traditions were used to create a distinctive sound unique to Africa, one that influenced the likes of Bob Dylan, J.J. Johnson, and many others. While these early players are often portrayed as bumbling cowboys and wild radicals, their influence has grown into a highly respected genre on the world stage. Today, heavy metal bands perform everywhere, from the United States to England to Japan.

Throughout the early 1970s, a British metal band called Black Sabbath made a name for itself with songs like “Stairway To Heaven,” “Honky Tonk Women,” and “Lord Save The World.” The band featured original member guitarist Les Paul, who also played keyboards. Guitarists John Paul Jones and Pig Pen had been playing together in the psychedelic band Pentangle, and they brought a raw and powerful approach to their sound that attracted audiences. By bringing a more stripped-down approach to its instrumentation, the band quickly gained a reputation for its energetic live performance, which included many spectacular covers of popular songs.

Two other British groups that played around the same time as Black Sabbath and Black Label Society also developed a similarly extreme reputation. The surviving member of both groups, Psychic Kids, has consistently sold out venues all over the world and even gained a legendary status. The other band, Van Halen, was formed by founding member Scott Weiland. The band’s most famous song, “Pumped Up Kilt,” became an immediate hit, and it was followed by massive amounts of publicity and a massive following. Like Sabbath, the band drew on classic rock influences to create its unique sound.

One other early 1980s metal band that is frequently credited with helping to shape the genre is the band Warrant. Formed by lead singer Andy James and guitar solos from its members, Warranti quickly became one of the most popular groups of its type, drawing influences from both pop and alternative rock music. A memorable single, “Wanted Dead or Alive,” quickly made the group a huge hit.

More recently, another British band has come up with a sound that many consider to be a modern take on heavy music. Cryptograms have created a stir in the world of heavy metal because of the guitar solos that define the genre. The group started as a five piece band with only lead vocalist Roger Whitfield and guitarists Tim Bluhm and Dean Johnson. The band released its first album, aptly named Cryptograms, in 1997 and has gone on to create a steady stream of hit singles and music videos. The guitar work and overall tone of Cryptograms bear much resemblance to heavy metal, though the core of the genre is more Gothic in nature than classic rock.

If you are looking for a definition of what is heavy metal music, remember that it owes much, perhaps majority, to alternative rock and pop influences. From the guitar to the lyrics to the sound itself, the genre has a sound all its own. From the original German band Reiter and the early English band doom, there is definitely something for everyone when it comes to heavy pedal point music.

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