Heavy metal (or simply metal) is a genre of rock music that
developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United
Kingdom. With roots in blues rock and psychedelic/acid rock, the
bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound,
characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos,
emphatic beats, and overall loudness.
Heavy metal lyrics
Heavy metal lyrics and
performance styles are sometimes associated with aggression and
In 1968, three of the genre's most famous pioneers, Led Zeppelin,
Black Sabbath and
Deep Purple were founded. Though they came to
attract wide audiences, they were often derided by critics. During the
Judas Priest helped spur the genre's evolution by
discarding much of its blues influence;
Motörhead introduced a
punk rock sensibility and an increasing emphasis on speed. Beginning
in the late 1970s, bands in the new wave of British heavy metal such
Iron Maiden and Saxon followed in a similar vein. Before the end of
the decade, heavy metal fans became known as "metalheads" or
During the 1980s, glam metal became popular with groups such as
Mötley Crüe and Poison. Underground scenes produced an array of more
aggressive styles: thrash metal broke into the mainstream with bands
such as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax, while other extreme
subgenres of metal such as death metal and black metal remain
subcultural phenomena. Since the mid-1990s popular styles have further
expanded the definition of the genre. These include groove metal (with
bands such as Pantera, Sepultura, and Lamb of God) and nu metal (with
bands such as Korn, Slipknot, and Linkin Park), the latter of which
often incorporates elements of grunge and hip hop.
1.1 Musical language
1.1.1 Rhythm and tempo
1.1.3 Typical harmonic structures
1.1.4 Relationship with classical music
1.2 Lyrical themes
1.3 Image and fashion
1.4 Physical gestures
1.5 Fan subculture
3.1 Antecedents: 1950s to late 1960s
3.2 Origins: late 1960s and early 1970s
3.3 Mainstream: late 1970s and 1980s
3.4 Other metal genres: 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s
3.4.1 Thrash metal
3.4.2 Death metal
3.4.3 Black metal
3.4.4 Power metal
3.4.5 Doom metal
3.5 1990s and early 2000s subgenres and fusions
3.6 Recent styles: mid–late 2000s and 2010s
4 See also
7 External links
Heavy metal is traditionally characterized by loud distorted guitars,
emphatic rhythms, dense bass-and-drum sound, and vigorous vocals.
Metal subgenres variously emphasize, alter, or omit one or more of
New York Times
New York Times critic
Jon Pareles writes, "In the
taxonomy of popular music, heavy metal is a major subspecies of
hard-rock—the breed with less syncopation, less blues, more
showmanship and more brute force." The typical band lineup includes
a drummer, a bassist, a rhythm guitarist, a lead guitarist, and a
singer, who may or may not be an instrumentalist. Keyboard instruments
are sometimes used to enhance the fullness of the sound. Deep
Jon Lord played an overdriven Hammond organ. In 1970, John
Paul Jones used a
Moog synthesizer on
Led Zeppelin III; by the 1990s,
in "almost every subgenre of heavy metal"[attribution needed]
synthesizers were used.
Judas Priest, performing in 2005
The electric guitar and the sonic power that it projects through
amplification has historically been the key element in heavy
metal. The heavy metal guitar sound comes from a combined use of
high volumes and heavy distortion. For classic metal guitar tone,
guitarists maintain moderate levels gain at moderate levels, without
excessive preamp or pedal distortion, to retain open spaces and air in
the music; the guitar amplifier is turned up loud to produce the
characteristic "punch and grind". Thrash guitar tone has scooped
mid-frequencies and tightly compressed sound with lots of bass
frequencies.Guitar solos are "an essential element of the heavy
metal code ... that underscores the significance of the guitar"
to the genre. Most heavy metal songs "feature at least one guitar
solo", which is "a primary means through which the heavy metal
performer expresses virtuosity". One exception is nu metal bands,
which tend to omit guitar solos. With rhythm guitar parts, the
"heavy crunch sound in heavy metal ... [is created by] palm
muting" the strings with the picking hand and using distortion.
Palm muting creates a tighter, more precise sound and it emphasizes
the low end.
The lead role of the guitar in heavy metal often collides with the
traditional "frontman" or bandleader role of the vocalist, creating a
musical tension as the two "contend for dominance" in a spirit of
"affectionate rivalry". Heavy metal "demands the subordination of
the voice" to the overall sound of the band. Reflecting metal's roots
in the 1960s counterculture, an "explicit display of emotion" is
required from the vocals as a sign of authenticity. Critic Simon
Frith claims that the metal singer's "tone of voice" is more important
than the lyrics.
The prominent role of the bass is also key to the metal sound, and the
interplay of bass and guitar is a central element. The bass guitar
provides the low-end sound crucial to making the music "heavy".
The bass plays a "more important role in heavy metal than in any other
genre of rock". Metal basslines vary widely in complexity, from
holding down a low pedal point as a foundation to doubling complex
riffs and licks along with the lead or rhythm guitars. Some bands
feature the bass as a lead instrument, an approach popularized by
Cliff Burton with his heavy emphasis on bass guitar solos
and use of chords while playing bass in the early 1980s.
Motörhead often played overdriven power chords in his bass lines.
The essence of metal drumming is creating a loud, constant beat for
the band using the "trifecta of speed, power, and precision".
Metal drumming "requires an exceptional amount of endurance", and
drummers have to develop "considerable speed, coordination, and
dexterity ... to play the intricate patterns" used in metal.
A characteristic metal drumming technique is the cymbal choke, which
consists of striking a cymbal and then immediately silencing it by
grabbing it with the other hand (or, in some cases, the same striking
hand), producing a burst of sound. The metal drum setup is generally
much larger than those employed in other forms of rock music.
Black metal, death metal and some "mainstream metal" bands "all depend
upon double-kicks and blast beats".
Enid Williams from
"Please Don't Touch" live in 2009. The ties that bind the two bands
started in the 1980s and were still strong in the 2010s.
In live performance, loudness—an "onslaught of sound", in
sociologist Deena Weinstein's description—is considered vital.
In his book Metalheads, psychologist Jeffrey Arnett refers to heavy
metal concerts as "the sensory equivalent of war". Following the
lead set by Jimi Hendrix, Cream and The Who, early heavy metal acts
Blue Cheer set new benchmarks for volume. As Blue Cheer's Dick
Peterson put it, "All we knew was we wanted more power." A 1977
review of a
Motörhead concert noted how "excessive volume in
particular figured into the band's impact." Weinstein makes the
case that in the same way that melody is the main element of pop and
rhythm is the main focus of house music, powerful sound, timbre, and
volume are the key elements of metal. She argues that the loudness is
designed to "sweep the listener into the sound" and to provide a "shot
of youthful vitality".
In relation to the gender composition of heavy metal bands, performers
tended to be almost exclusively male until at least the
mid-1980s apart from exceptions such as Girlschool. However,
"now [in the 2010s] maybe more than ever–strong metal women have put
up their dukes and got down to it", "carv[ing] out a considerable
place for [them]selves". A 2013 article[who?] states that metal
"clearly empowers women". In the sub-genres of symphonic and power
metal, there has been a sizable number of bands that have had women as
the lead singers, bands such as Nightwish, Delain, and Within
Temptation have featured women as lead singers with men playing
Rhythm and tempo
An example of a rhythmic pattern used in heavy metal. The upper stave
is a palm-muted rhythm guitar part. The lower stave is the drum part.
Rhythmic Pattern Audio
The rhythm in metal songs is emphatic, with deliberate stresses.
Weinstein observes that the wide array of sonic effects available to
metal drummers enables the "rhythmic pattern to take on a complexity
within its elemental drive and insistency". In many heavy metal
songs, the main groove is characterized by short, two-note or
three-note rhythmic figures—generally made up of 8th or 16th notes.
These rhythmic figures are usually performed with a staccato attack
created by using a palm-muted technique on the rhythm guitar.
Brief, abrupt, and detached rhythmic cells are joined into rhythmic
phrases with a distinctive, often jerky texture. These phrases are
used to create rhythmic accompaniment and melodic figures called
riffs, which help to establish thematic hooks. Heavy metal songs also
use longer rhythmic figures such as whole note- or dotted quarter
note-length chords in slow-tempo power ballads. The tempos in early
heavy metal music tended to be "slow, even ponderous". By the late
1970s, however, metal bands were employing a wide variety of tempos.
In the 2000s decade, metal tempos range from slow ballad tempos
(quarter note = 60 beats per minute) to extremely fast blast beat
tempos (quarter note = 350 beats per minute).
One of the signatures of the genre is the guitar power chord. In
technical terms, the power chord is relatively simple: it involves
just one main interval, generally the perfect fifth, though an octave
may be added as a doubling of the root. When power chords are played
on the lower strings at high volumes and with distortion, additional
low frequency sounds are created, which add to the "weight of the
sound" and create an effect of "overwhelming power". Although the
perfect fifth interval is the most common basis for the power
chord, power chords are also based on different intervals such as
the minor third, major third, perfect fourth, diminished fifth, or
minor sixth. Most power chords are also played with a consistent
finger arrangement that can be slid easily up and down the
Typical harmonic structures
Heavy metal is usually based on riffs created with three main harmonic
traits: modal scale progressions, tritone and chromatic progressions,
and the use of pedal points.
Traditional heavy metal
Traditional heavy metal tends to employ
modal scales, in particular the Aeolian and Phrygian modes.
Harmonically speaking, this means the genre typically incorporates
modal chord progressions such as the Aeolian progressions
I-♭VI-♭VII, I-♭VII-(♭VI), or I-♭VI-IV-♭VII and Phrygian
progressions implying the relation between I and ♭II (I-♭II-I,
I-♭II-III, or I-♭II-VII for example). Tense-sounding chromatic or
tritone relationships are used in a number of metal chord
progressions. In addition to using modal harmonic
relationships, heavy metal also uses "pentatonic and blues-derived
The tritone, an interval spanning three whole tones—such as C to
F#—was a forbidden dissonance in medieval ecclesiastical singing,
which led monks to call it diabolus in musica—"the devil in
Heavy metal songs often make extensive use of pedal point as a
harmonic basis. A pedal point is a sustained tone, typically in the
bass range, during which at least one foreign (i.e., dissonant)
harmony is sounded in the other parts. According to Robert Walser,
heavy metal harmonic relationships are "often quite complex" and the
harmonic analysis done by metal players and teachers is "often very
sophisticated". In the study of heavy metal chord structures, it
has been concluded that "heavy metal music has proved to be far more
complicated" than other music researchers had realized.
Relationship with classical music
Ritchie Blackmore, founder of
Deep Purple and Rainbow, known for the
neoclassical approach in his guitar performances
Robert Walser stated that, alongside blues and R&B, the
"assemblage of disparate musical styles known ... as 'classical
music'" has been a major influence on heavy metal since the genre's
earliest days. Also that metal's "most influential musicians have been
guitar players who have also studied classical music. Their
appropriation and adaptation of classical models sparked the
development of a new kind of guitar virtuosity [and] changes in the
harmonic and melodic language of heavy metal."
In an article written for Grove Music Online, Walser stated that the
"1980s brought on ... the widespread adaptation of chord
progressions and virtuosic practices from 18th-century European
models, especially Bach and Antonio Vivaldi, by influential guitarists
such as Ritchie Blackmore, Marty Friedman, Jason Becker, Uli Jon Roth,
Eddie Van Halen,
Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen". Kurt Bachmann
of Believer has stated that "If done correctly, metal and classical
fit quite well together. Classical and metal are probably the two
genres that have the most in common when it comes to feel, texture,
Although a number of metal musicians cite classical composers as
inspiration, classical and metal are rooted in different cultural
traditions and practices—classical in the art music tradition, metal
in the popular music tradition. As musicologists Nicolas Cook and
Nicola Dibben note, "Analyses of popular music also sometimes reveal
the influence of 'art traditions'. An example is Walser's linkage of
heavy metal music with the ideologies and even some of the performance
practices of nineteenth-century Romanticism. However, it would be
clearly wrong to claim that traditions such as blues, rock, heavy
metal, rap or dance music derive primarily from "art music'."
Even in terms of fan base, the two fan bases are close in a way,
although the general public has held a stereotype of heavy metal fans
being suicidal, depressed and a danger to themselves and society in
general. However, Adrian North, a Heriot-Watt University professor who
studies genre listeners found that metal listeners were above all else
creative, at ease with themselves and introverted — qualities he
also found in classical listeners.
Main article: Heavy metal lyrics
According to scholars David Hatch and Stephen Millward, Black Sabbath,
and the numerous metal bands that they inspired, have concentrated
lyrically "on dark and depressing subject matter to an extent hitherto
unprecedented in any form of pop music". They take as an example
Sabbath's second album Paranoid (1970), which "included songs dealing
with personal trauma—'Paranoid' and 'Fairies Wear Boots' (which
described the unsavoury side effects of drug-taking)—as well as
those confronting wider issues, such as the self-explanatory 'War
Pigs' and 'Hand of Doom'." Deriving from the genre's roots in
blues music, sex is another important topic—a thread running from
Led Zeppelin's suggestive lyrics to the more explicit references of
glam and nu metal bands.
King Diamond, known for writing conceptual lyrics about horror stories
The thematic content of heavy metal has long been a target of
criticism. According to Jon Pareles, "Heavy metal's main subject
matter is simple and virtually universal. With grunts, moans and
subliterary lyrics, it celebrates ... a party without
limits ... [T]he bulk of the music is stylized and formulaic."
Music critics have often deemed metal lyrics juvenile and banal, and
others have objected to what they see as advocacy of misogyny and
the occult. During the 1980s, the Parents Music Resource Center
petitioned the U.S. Congress to regulate the popular music industry
due to what the group asserted were objectionable lyrics, particularly
those in heavy metal songs. Andrew Cope states that claims that
heavy metal lyrics are misogynistic are "clearly misguided" as these
critics have "overlook[ed] the overwhelming evidence that suggests
otherwise". Music critic
Robert Christgau called metal "an
expressive mode [that] it sometimes seems will be with us for as long
as ordinary white boys fear girls, pity themselves, and are permitted
to rage against a world they'll never beat".
Metal artists have had to defend their lyrics in front of the U.S.
Senate and in court. In 1985,
Twisted Sister frontman
Dee Snider was
asked to defend his song "Under the Blade" at a U.S. Senate hearing.
At the hearing, the
PMRC alleged that the song was about sadomasochism
and rape; Snider stated that the song was about his bandmate's throat
surgery. In 1986,
Ozzy Osbourne was sued over the lyrics of his
song "Suicide Solution". A lawsuit against Osbourne was filed by
the parents of John McCollum, a depressed teenager who committed
suicide allegedly after listening to Osbourne's song. Osbourne was not
found to be responsible for the teen's death. In 1990, Judas
Priest was sued in American court by the parents of two young men who
had shot themselves five years earlier, allegedly after hearing the
subliminal statement "do it" in a Priest song. While the case
attracted a great deal of media attention, it was ultimately
dismissed. In 1991, UK police seized death metal records from the
British record label Earache Records, in an "unsuccessful attempt to
prosecute the label for obscenity".
In some predominantly Muslim countries, heavy metal has been
officially denounced as a threat to traditional values. In countries
such as Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, and Malaysia, there have been
incidents of heavy metal musicians and fans being arrested and
incarcerated. In 1997, the Egyptian police jailed many young metal
fans and they were accused of "devil worship" and blasphemy, after
police found metal recordings during searches of their homes. In
Malaysia banned Lamb of God from performing in their country, on
the grounds that the "band's lyrics could be interpreted as being
religiously insensitive" and blasphemous. Some people considered
heavy metal music to being a leading factor for mental health
disorders, and thought that heavy metal fans were more likely to
suffer with a poor mental health, but study has proven that this is
not true and the fans of this music have a lower or similar percentage
of people suffering from poor mental health.
Image and fashion
Main article: Heavy metal fashion
Kiss performing in 2004, wearing makeup
For many artists and bands, visual imagery plays a large role in heavy
metal. In addition to its sound and lyrics, a heavy metal band's image
is expressed in album cover art, logos, stage sets, clothing, design
of instruments, and music videos.
Down-the-back long hair is the "most crucial distinguishing feature of
metal fashion". Originally adopted from the hippie subculture, by
the 1980s and 1990s heavy metal hair "symbolised the hate, angst and
disenchantment of a generation that seemingly never felt at home",
according to journalist Nader Rahman. Long hair gave members of the
metal community "the power they needed to rebel against nothing in
The classic uniform of heavy metal fans consists of light colored,
ripped frayed or torn blue jeans, black T-shirts, boots, and black
leather or denim jackets.
Deena Weinstein writes, "T-shirts are
generally emblazoned with the logos or other visual representations of
favorite metal bands." In the 1980s, a range of sources, from punk
and goth music to horror films, influenced metal fashion. Many
metal performers of the 1970s and 1980s used radically shaped and
brightly colored instruments to enhance their stage
Fashion and personal style was especially important for glam metal
bands of the era. Performers typically wore long, dyed,
hairspray-teased hair (hence the nickname, "hair metal"); makeup such
as lipstick and eyeliner; gaudy clothing, including
leopard-skin-printed shirts or vests and tight denim, leather, or
spandex pants; and accessories such as headbands and jewelry.
Pioneered by the heavy metal act
X Japan in the late 1980s, bands in
the Japanese movement known as visual kei—which includes many
nonmetal groups—emphasize elaborate costumes, hair, and makeup.
Fans raise their fists and make the "devil horns" gesture at a
Many metal musicians when performing live engage in headbanging, which
involves rhythmically beating time with the head, often emphasized by
long hair. The il cornuto, or devil horns, hand gesture was
popularized by vocalist
Ronnie James Dio
Ronnie James Dio while with
Black Sabbath and
Gene Simmons of Kiss claims to have been the first
to make the gesture on the 1977
Love Gun album cover, there is
speculation as to who started the phenomenon.
Attendees of metal concerts do not dance in the usual sense. It has
been argued that this is due to the music's largely male audience and
"extreme heterosexualist ideology". Two primary body movements used
are headbanging and an arm thrust that is both a sign of appreciation
and a rhythmic gesture. The performance of air guitar is popular
among metal fans both at concerts and listening to records at
home. According to Deena Weinstein, thrash metal concerts have two
elements that are not part of the other metal genres: moshing and
stage diving, which "were imported from the punk/hardcore
subculture". Weinstein states that moshing participants bump and
jostle each other as they move in a circle in an area called the "pit"
near the stage. Stage divers climb onto the stage with the band and
then jump "back into the audience".
Main article: Heavy metal subculture
A heavy metal fan wearing a denim jacket with band patches and artwork
of the heavy metal bands Metallica, Guns N' Roses, Iron Maiden,
Slipknot, Dio and Led Zeppelin
It has been argued that heavy metal has outlasted many other rock
genres largely due to the emergence of an intense, exclusionary,
strongly masculine subculture. While the metal fan base is largely
young, white, male, and blue-collar, the group is "tolerant of those
outside its core demographic base who follow its codes of dress,
appearance, and behavior". Identification with the subculture is
strengthened not only by the group experience of concert-going and
shared elements of fashion, but also by contributing to metal
magazines and, more recently, websites. Attending live concerts in
particular has been called the "holiest of heavy metal
The metal scene has been characterized as a "subculture of
alienation", with its own code of authenticity. This code puts
several demands on performers: they must appear both completely
devoted to their music and loyal to the subculture that supports it;
they must appear uninterested in mainstream appeal and radio hits; and
they must never "sell out".
Deena Weinstein states that for the
fans themselves, the code promotes "opposition to established
authority, and separateness from the rest of society".
Musician and filmmaker
Rob Zombie observes, "Most of the kids who come
to my shows seem like really imaginative kids with a lot of creative
energy they don't know what to do with" and that metal is "outsider
music for outsiders. Nobody wants to be the weird kid; you just
somehow end up being the weird kid. It's kind of like that, but with
metal you have all the weird kids in one place". Scholars of metal
have noted the tendency of fans to classify and reject some performers
(and some other fans) as "poseurs" "who pretended to be part of the
subculture, but who were deemed to lack authenticity and
The origin of the term "heavy metal" in a musical context is
uncertain. The phrase has been used for centuries in chemistry and
metallurgy, where the periodic table organizes elements of both light
and heavy metals (e.g., uranium). An early use of the term in modern
popular culture was by countercultural writer William S. Burroughs.
His 1962 novel
The Soft Machine
The Soft Machine includes a character known as "Uranian
Willy, the Heavy Metal Kid". Burroughs' next novel, Nova Express
(1964), develops the theme, using heavy metal as a metaphor for
addictive drugs: "With their diseases and orgasm drugs and their
sexless parasite life forms—Heavy Metal People of Uranus wrapped in
cool blue mist of vaporized bank notes—And The Insect People of
Minraud with metal music". Inspired by Burroughs' novels, the
term was used in the title of the 1967 album Featuring the Human Host
and the Heavy Metal Kids by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, which has
been claimed to be its first use in the context of music. The
phrase was later lifted by Sandy Pearlman, who used the term to
The Byrds for their supposed "aluminium style of context and
effect", particularly on their album The Notorious Byrd Brothers
Ian Christe describes what the components of the term
mean in "hippiespeak": "heavy" is roughly synonymous with "potent" or
"profound," and "metal" designates a certain type of mood, grinding
and weighted as with metal. The word "heavy" in this sense was a
basic element of beatnik and later countercultural hippie slang, and
references to "heavy music"—typically slower, more amplified
variations of standard pop fare—were already common by the
mid-1960s. Iron Butterfly's debut album, released in early 1968, was
titled Heavy. The first use of "heavy metal" in a song lyric is in
reference to a motorcycle in the Steppenwolf song "Born to Be Wild",
also released that year: "I like smoke and lightning/Heavy metal
thunder/Racin' with the wind/And the feelin' that I'm under."
The first documented use of the phrase to describe a type of rock
music identified to date appears in a review by Barry Gifford. In the
May 11, 1968, issue of Rolling Stone, he wrote about the album A Long
Time Comin' by U.S. band Electric Flag: "Nobody who's been listening
to Mike Bloomfield—either talking or playing—in the last few years
could have expected this. This is the new soul music, the synthesis of
white blues and heavy metal rock." In January 1970 Lucian K.
Truscott IV reviewing
Led Zeppelin II for the
Village Voice described
the sound as "heavy" and made comparisons with
Blue Cheer and Vanilla
Other early documented uses of the phrase are from reviews by critic
Mike Saunders. In the November 12, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone, he
commented on an album put out the previous year by the British band
Humble Pie: "Safe as Yesterday Is, their first American release,
proved that Humble Pie could be boring in lots of different ways. Here
they were a noisy, unmelodic, heavy metal-leaden shit-rock band with
the loud and noisy parts beyond doubt. There were a couple of nice
songs ... and one monumental pile of refuse". He described the
band's latest, self-titled release as "more of the same 27th-rate
heavy metal crap".
In a review of Sir Lord Baltimore's Kingdom Come in the May 1971
Creem, Saunders wrote, "
Sir Lord Baltimore
Sir Lord Baltimore seems to have down pat most
all the best heavy metal tricks in the book".
Creem critic Lester
Bangs is credited with popularizing the term via his early 1970s
essays on bands such as
Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Through
the decade, heavy metal was used by certain critics as a virtually
automatic putdown. In 1979, lead
New York Times
New York Times popular music critic
John Rockwell described what he called "heavy-metal rock" as "brutally
aggressive music played mostly for minds clouded by drugs", and,
in a different article, as "a crude exaggeration of rock basics that
appeals to white teenagers".
Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward, "downer rock" was one of
the earliest terms used to describe this style of music and was
applied to acts such as Sabbath and Bloodrock. Classic Rock magazine
described the downer rock culture revolving around the use of
Quaaludes and the drinking of wine. Later the term would be
replaced by "heavy metal".
The terms "heavy metal" and "hard rock" have often been used
interchangeably, particularly in discussing bands of the 1970s, a
period when the terms were largely synonymous. For example, the
Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll includes this
passage: "known for its aggressive blues-based hard-rock style,
Aerosmith was the top American heavy-metal band of the
Earlier on, as "heavy metal" emerged partially from the heavy
psychedelic rock or acid rock scene, "acid rock" was often used
interchangeably with "heavy metal" and "hard rock". Musicologist Steve
Waksman stated that "the distinction between acid rock, hard rock, and
heavy metal can at some point never be more than tenuous", while
percussionist John Beck defined "acid rock" as synonymous with hard
rock and heavy metal.
Antecedents: 1950s to late 1960s
Blues rock and acid rock
Heavy metal's quintessential guitar style, built around
distortion-heavy riffs and power chords, traces its roots to early
Memphis blues guitarists such as Joe Hill Louis, Willie Johnson,
and particularly Pat Hare, who captured a "grittier,
nastier, more ferocious electric guitar sound" on records such as
James Cotton's "Cotton Crop Blues" (1954); the late 1950s
instrumentals of Link Wray, particularly "Rumble" (1958); the
early 1960s surf rock of Dick Dale, including "Let's Go Trippin'"
(1961) and "Misirlou" (1962); and The Kingsmen's version of "Louie
Louie" (1963) which made it a garage rock standard.
Cream performing on the Dutch television program Fanclub in 1968
However, the genre's direct lineage begins in the mid-1960s. American
blues music was a major influence on the early British rockers of the
era. Bands like
The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones and
The Yardbirds developed blues
rock by recording covers of classic blues songs, often speeding up the
tempos. As they experimented with the music, the UK blues-based
bands—and the U.S. acts they influenced in turn—developed what
would become the hallmarks of heavy metal, in particular, the loud,
distorted guitar sound.
The Kinks played a major role in
popularising this sound with their 1964 hit "You Really Got Me".
In addition to The Kinks' Dave Davies, other guitarists such as The
Pete Townshend and The Yardbirds'
Jeff Beck were experimenting
with feedback. Where the blues rock drumming style started
out largely as simple shuffle beats on small kits, drummers began
using a more muscular, complex, and amplified approach to match and be
heard against the increasingly loud guitar. Vocalists similarly
modified their technique and increased their reliance on
amplification, often becoming more stylized and dramatic. In terms of
sheer volume, especially in live performance, The Who's
"bigger-louder-wall-of-Marshalls" approach was seminal.
The combination of blues rock with psychedelic rock and acid rock
formed much of the original basis for heavy metal. The variant or
subgenre of psychedelic rock often known as "acid rock" was
particularly influential on heavy metal; acid rock is often defined as
a heavier, louder, or harder variant of psychedelic rock, or the
more extreme side of the psychedelic rock genre, frequently containing
a loud, improvised, and heavily distorted guitar-centered sound. Acid
rock has been described as psychedelic rock at its "rawest and most
intense," emphasizing the heavier qualities associated with both the
positive and negative extremes of the psychedelic experience rather
than only the idyllic side of psychedelia. American acid rock
garage bands such as the
13th Floor Elevators epitomized the frenetic,
heavier, darker and more psychotic sound of acid rock, a sound
characterized by droning guitar riffs, amplified feedback, and guitar
distortion, while the 13th Floor Elevators' sound in particular
featured yelping vocals and "occasionally demented" lyrics. Frank
Hoffman notes that: "Psychedelia was sometimes referred to as 'acid
rock'. The latter label was applied to a pounding, hard rock variant
that evolved out of the mid-1960s garage-punk movement. ... When rock
began turning back to softer, roots-oriented sounds in late 1968,
acid-rock bands mutated into heavy metal acts."
One of the most influential bands in forging the merger of psychedelic
rock and acid rock with the blues rock genre was the British power
trio Cream, who derived a massive, heavy sound from unison riffing
Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce, as well as
Ginger Baker's double bass drumming. Their first two LPs, Fresh
Cream (1966) and
Disraeli Gears (1967), are regarded as essential
prototypes for the future style of heavy metal. The Jimi Hendrix
Experience's debut album, Are You Experienced (1967), was also highly
influential. Hendrix's virtuosic technique would be emulated by many
metal guitarists and the album's most successful single, "Purple
Haze", is identified by some as the first heavy metal hit. Vanilla
Fudge, whose first album also came out in 1967, has been called "one
of the few American links between psychedelia and what soon became
heavy metal", and the band has been cited as an early American
heavy metal group. On their self-titled debut album, Vanilla
Fudge created "loud, heavy, slowed-down arrangements" of contemporary
hit songs, blowing these songs up to "epic proportions" and "bathing
them in a trippy, distorted haze."
During the late 1960s, many psychedelic singers, such as Arthur Brown,
began to create outlandish, theatrical and often macabre performances;
which in itself became incredibly influential to many metal
acts. The American psychedelic rock band Coven, who
opened for early heavy metal influencers such as
Vanilla Fudge and the
Yardbirds, portrayed themselves as practitioners of witchcraft or
black magic, using dark—Satanic or occult—imagery in their lyrics,
album art, and live performances. Live shows consisted of elaborate,
theatrical "Satanic rites." Coven's 1969 debut album, Witchcraft
Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, featured imagery of skulls, black
masses, inverted crosses, and
Satan worship, and both the album
artwork and the band's live performances marked the first appearances
in rock music of the sign of the horns, which would later become an
important gesture in heavy metal culture. At the same time
in England, the band Black Widow were also among the first psychedelic
rock bands to use occult and Satanic imagery and lyrics, though both
Black Widow and Coven's lyrical and thematic influences on heavy metal
were quickly overshadowed by the darker and heavier sounds of Black
Origins: late 1960s and early 1970s
See also: Traditional heavy metal
John Kay of Steppenwolf
Critics disagree over who can be thought of as the first heavy metal
band. Most credit either
Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, with American
commentators tending to favour
Led Zeppelin and British commentators
tending to favour Black Sabbath, though many give equal credit to
both. A few commentators—mainly American—argue for other groups
including Iron Butterfly, Steppenwolf or Blue Cheer. Deep Purple,
the third band in what is sometimes considered the "unholy trinity" of
heavy metal (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple), despite
being slightly older than
Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, fluctuated
between many rock styles until late 1969 when they took a heavy metal
In 1968, the sound that would become known as heavy metal began to
coalesce. That January, the San Francisco band
Blue Cheer released a
cover of Eddie Cochran's classic "Summertime Blues", from their debut
album Vincebus Eruptum, that many consider the first true heavy metal
recording. The same month, Steppenwolf released its self-titled
debut album, including "Born to Be Wild", which refers to "heavy metal
thunder" in describing a motorcycle. In July, the
Jeff Beck Group,
whose leader had preceded Page as The Yardbirds' guitarist, released
its debut record: Truth featured some of the "most molten, barbed,
downright funny noises of all time," breaking ground for generations
of metal ax-slingers. In September, Page's new band, Led
Zeppelin, made its live debut in Denmark (billed as The New
Yardbirds). The Beatles' White Album, released the following
month, included "Helter Skelter", then one of the heaviest-sounding
songs ever released by a major band. The Pretty Things' rock
opera S.F. Sorrow, released in December, featured "proto heavy metal"
songs such as "Old Man Going" and "I See You". Iron
Butterfly's 1968 song "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" is sometimes described as
an example of the transition between acid rock and heavy metal or
the turning point in which acid rock became "heavy metal", and
both Iron Butterfly's 1968 album
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and Blue Cheer's
Vincebus Eruptum have been described as laying the
foundation of heavy metal and greatly influential in the
transformation of acid rock into heavy metal.
In this counterculture period MC5, who began as part of the Detroit
garage rock scene, developed a raw distorted style that has been seen
as a major influence on the future sound of both heavy metal and later
The Stooges also began to establish and
influence a heavy metal and later punk sound, with songs such as "I
Wanna Be Your Dog", featuring pounding and distorted heavy guitar
power chord riffs.
Pink Floyd released two of their heaviest and
loudest songs to date; "Ibiza Bar" and "The Nile Song", which was
regarded as "one of the heaviest songs the band recorded".
King Crimson's debut album started with "21st Century Schizoid Man,"
which was considered heavy metal by several critics.
From left to
Led Zeppelin performing at
Chicago Stadium in January
In January 1969, Led Zeppelin's self-titled debut album was released
and reached number 10 on the Billboard album chart. In July, Zeppelin
and a power trio with a Cream-inspired, but cruder sound, Grand Funk
Railroad, played the Atlanta Pop Festival. That same month, another
Cream-rooted trio led by
Leslie West released Mountain, an album
filled with heavy blues rock guitar and roaring vocals. In August, the
group—now itself dubbed Mountain—played an hour-long set at the
Woodstock Festival, exposing the crowd of 300,000 people to the
emerging sound of heavy metal. Mountain's proto-metal or
early heavy metal hit song "Mississippi Queen" from the album
Climbing! is especially credited with paving the way for heavy metal
and was one of the first heavy guitar songs to receive regular play on
radio. In September 1969, the Beatles released the
Abbey Road containing the track "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"
which has been credited as an early example of or influence on heavy
metal or doom metal. In October 1969, British band High Tide
debuted with the heavy, proto-metal album Sea Shanties.
Led Zeppelin defined central aspects of the emerging genre, with
Page's highly distorted guitar style and singer Robert Plant's
dramatic, wailing vocals. Other bands, with a more consistently
heavy, "purely" metal sound, would prove equally important in
codifying the genre. The 1970 releases by
Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath
and Paranoid) and
Deep Purple (In Rock) were crucial in this
"Whole Lotta Love"
Sample of "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin, from
Led Zeppelin II
(1969). The heavy riff-based song, using lyrics culled from the
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Black Sabbath had developed a particularly heavy sound in
part due to an industrial accident guitarist
Tony Iommi suffered
before cofounding the band. Unable to play normally, Iommi had to tune
his guitar down for easier fretting and rely on power chords with
their relatively simple fingering. The bleak, industrial, working
class environment of Birmingham, a manufacturing city full of noisy
factories and metalworking, has itself been credited with influencing
Black Sabbath's heavy, chugging, metallic sound and the sound of heavy
metal in general.
Deep Purple had fluctuated
between styles in its early years, but by 1969 vocalist
Ian Gillan and
Ritchie Blackmore had led the band toward the developing
heavy metal style. In 1970,
Black Sabbath and
Deep Purple scored
major UK chart hits with "Paranoid" and "Black Night",
respectively. That same year, two other British bands
released debut albums in a heavy metal mode: Uriah Heep with Very
'Eavy... Very 'Umble and UFO with UFO 1.
Bloodrock released their
self-titled debut album, containing a collection of heavy guitar
riffs, gruff style vocals and sadistic and macabre lyrics. The
influential Budgie brought the new metal sound into a power trio
context, creating some of the heaviest music of the time. The
occult lyrics and imagery employed by
Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep
would prove particularly influential;
Led Zeppelin also began
foregrounding such elements with its fourth album, released in
1971. In 1973,
Deep Purple released the song Smoke on the Water,
with the iconic riff that's usually considered as the most
recognizable one in "heavy rock" history, as a single of the classic
live album Made in Japan.
Brian Robertson, Phil Lynott,
Scott Gorham of
Thin Lizzy performing
during the Bad Reputation Tour, November 24, 1977
On the other side of the Atlantic, the trend-setting group was Grand
Funk Railroad, described as "the most commercially successful American
heavy-metal band from 1970 until they disbanded in 1976, [they]
established the Seventies success formula: continuous touring".
Other influential bands identified with metal emerged in the U.S.,
Sir Lord Baltimore
Sir Lord Baltimore (Kingdom Come, 1970), Blue Öyster Cult
(Blue Öyster Cult, 1972),
Aerosmith (Aerosmith, 1973) and Kiss (Kiss,
1974). Sir Lord Baltimore's 1970 debut album and both Humble Pie's
debut and self-titled third album were all among the first albums to
be described in print as "heavy metal", with As Safe As Yesterday Is
being referred to by the term "heavy metal" in a 1970 review in
Rolling Stone magazine. Various smaller bands from the U.S.,
U.K, and Continental Europe, including Bang, Josefus, Leaf Hound,
Primeval, Hard Stuff, Truth and Janey, Dust, JPT Scare Band, Frijid
Pink, Cactus, May Blitz, Captain Beyond, Toad, Granicus, Iron Claw,
and Yesterday's Children, though lesser known outside of their
respective scenes, proved to be greatly influential on the emerging
metal movement. In Germany, Scorpions debuted with
Lonesome Crow in
1972. Blackmore, who had emerged as a virtuoso soloist with Deep
Purple's highly influential album Machine Head (1972), left the band
in 1975 to form Rainbow with Ronnie James Dio, singer and bassist for
blues rock band Elf and future vocalist for
Black Sabbath and heavy
metal band Dio. Rainbow with
Ronnie James Dio
Ronnie James Dio would expand on the
mystical and fantasy-based lyrics and themes sometimes found in heavy
metal, pioneering both power metal and neoclassical metal. These
bands also built audiences via constant touring and increasingly
elaborate stage shows.
As described above, there are arguments about whether these and other
early bands truly qualify as "heavy metal" or simply as "hard rock".
Those closer to the music's blues roots or placing greater emphasis on
melody are now commonly ascribed the latter label. AC/DC, which
debuted with High Voltage in 1975, is a prime example. The 1983
Rolling Stone encyclopedia entry begins, "Australian heavy-metal band
AC/DC". Rock historian Clinton Walker writes, "Calling
heavy metal band in the seventies was as inaccurate as it is today....
[They] were a rock 'n' roll band that just happened to be heavy enough
for metal". The issue is not only one of shifting definitions,
but also a persistent distinction between musical style and audience
Ian Christe describes how the band "became the
stepping-stone that led huge numbers of hard rock fans into heavy
In certain cases, there is little debate. After Black Sabbath, the
next major example is Britain's Judas Priest, which debuted with Rocka
Rolla in 1974. In Christe's description,
"Black Sabbath's audience was...left to scavenge for sounds with
similar impact. By the mid-1970s, heavy metal aesthetic could be
spotted, like a mythical beast, in the moody bass and complex dual
guitars of Thin Lizzy, in the stagecraft of Alice Cooper, in the
sizzling guitar and showy vocals of Queen, and in the thundering
medieval questions of Rainbow....
Judas Priest arrived to unify and
amplify these diverse highlights from hard rock's sonic palette. For
the first time, heavy metal became a true genre unto itself."
Judas Priest did not have a top 40 album in the United States
until 1980, for many it was the definitive post-Sabbath heavy metal
band; its twin-guitar attack, featuring rapid tempos and a non-bluesy,
more cleanly metallic sound, was a major influence on later acts.
While heavy metal was growing in popularity, most critics were not
enamored of the music. Objections were raised to metal's adoption of
visual spectacle and other trappings of commercial artifice, but
the main offense was its perceived musical and lyrical vacuity:
Black Sabbath album in the early 1970s, leading critic
Robert Christgau described it as "dull and decadent...dim-witted,
Mainstream: late 1970s and 1980s
Iron Maiden, one of the central bands in the new wave of British heavy
Punk rock emerged in the mid-1970s as a reaction against contemporary
social conditions as well as what was perceived as the overindulgent,
overproduced rock music of the time, including heavy metal. Sales of
heavy metal records declined sharply in the late 1970s in the face of
punk, disco, and more mainstream rock. With the major labels
fixated on punk, many newer British heavy metal bands were inspired by
the movement's aggressive, high-energy sound and "lo-fi", do it
yourself ethos. Underground metal bands began putting out cheaply
recorded releases independently to small, devoted audiences.
Motörhead, founded in 1975, was the first important band to straddle
the punk/metal divide. With the explosion of punk in 1977, others
followed. British music papers such as the
NME and Sounds took notice,
with Sounds writer Geoff Barton christening the movement the "New Wave
of British Heavy Metal". NWOBHM bands including Iron Maiden,
Def Leppard re-energized the heavy metal genre. Following
the lead set by
Judas Priest and Motörhead, they toughened up the
sound, reduced its blues elements, and emphasized increasingly fast
By 1980, the NWOBHM had broken into the mainstream, as albums by Iron
Maiden and Saxon, as well as Motörhead, reached the British top 10.
Though less commercially successful, other NWOBHM bands such as Venom
and Diamond Head would have a significant influence on metal's
development. In 1981,
Motörhead became the first of this new
breed of metal bands to top the UK charts with No Sleep 'til
The first generation of metal bands was ceding the limelight. Deep
Purple had broken up soon after Blackmore's departure in 1975, and Led
Zeppelin broke up following drummer John Bonham's death in 1980. Black
Sabbath plagued with infighting and substance abuse, while facing
fierce competition with their opening band, the
Los Angeles band Van
Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen established himself as one of the
leading metal guitarists of the era. His solo on "Eruption", from the
band's self-titled 1978 album, is considered a milestone. Eddie
Van Halen's sound even crossed over into pop music when his guitar
solo was featured on the track "Beat It" by
Michael Jackson (a U.S.
number 1 in February 1983).
Inspired by Van Halen's success, a metal scene began to develop in
Southern California during the late 1970s. Based on the clubs of
L.A.'s Sunset Strip, bands such as Quiet Riot, Ratt, Mötley Crüe,
and W.A.S.P. were influenced by traditional heavy metal of the earlier
1970s. These acts incorporated the theatrics (and sometimes
makeup) of glam metal or "hair metal" such as
Alice Cooper and
Kiss. Hair/glam metal bands were often visually distinguished by
long, overworked hair styles accompanied by wardrobes which were
sometimes considered cross-gender. The lyrics of these glam metal
bands characteristically emphasized hedonism and wild behavior,
including lyrics which involved sexual expletives and the use of
Sample of "Purgatory" by Iron Maiden, from the album Killers (1981).
Iron Maiden sound was a mix of punk rock speed and heavy
metal guitar work typical of the new wave of British heavy metal.
"Hot for Teacher"
Sample of "Hot for Teacher" by Van Halen, from the album 1984 (1984).
This sample demonstrates their sound's similarity to the glam metal
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In the wake of the new wave of British heavy metal and Judas Priest's
breakthrough British Steel (1980), heavy metal became increasingly
popular in the early 1980s. Many metal artists benefited from the
exposure they received on MTV, which began airing in 1981—sales
often soared if a band's videos screened on the channel. Def
Leppard's videos for Pyromania (1983) made them superstars in America
Quiet Riot became the first domestic heavy metal band to top the
Billboard chart with
Metal Health (1983). One of the seminal events in
metal's growing popularity was the 1983
US Festival in California,
where the "heavy metal day" featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Van Halen,
Scorpions, Mötley Crüe, Judas Priest, and others drew the largest
audiences of the three-day event.
Between 1983 and 1984, heavy metal went from an 8 percent to a 20
percent share of all recordings sold in the U.S. Several major
professional magazines devoted to the genre were launched, including
Kerrang! (in 1981) and
Metal Hammer (in 1984), as well as a host of
fan journals. In 1985, Billboard declared, "Metal has broadened its
audience base. Metal music is no longer the exclusive domain of male
teenagers. The metal audience has become older (college-aged), younger
(pre-teen), and more female".
By the mid-1980s, glam metal was a dominant presence on the U.S.
charts, music television, and the arena concert circuit. New bands
such as L.A.'s Warrant and acts from the East Coast like Poison and
Cinderella became major draws, while
Mötley Crüe and
very popular. Bridging the stylistic gap between hard rock and glam
metal, New Jersey's
Bon Jovi became enormously successful with its
Slippery When Wet
Slippery When Wet (1986). The similarly styled Swedish
band Europe became international stars with The Final Countdown
(1986). Its title track hit number 1 in 25 countries. In 1987,
MTV launched a show, Headbanger's Ball, devoted exclusively to heavy
metal videos. However, the metal audience had begun to factionalize,
with those in many underground metal scenes favoring more extreme
sounds and disparaging the popular style as "light metal" or "hair
One band that reached diverse audiences was Guns N' Roses. In contrast
to their glam metal contemporaries in L.A., they were seen as much
more raw and dangerous. With the release of their chart-topping
Appetite for Destruction
Appetite for Destruction (1987), they "recharged and almost
single-handedly sustained the
Sunset Strip sleaze system for several
years". The following year,
Jane's Addiction emerged from the
same L.A. hard-rock club scene with its major label debut, Nothing's
Shocking. Reviewing the album,
Rolling Stone declared, "as much as any
band in existence,
Jane's Addiction is the true heir to Led
Zeppelin". The group was one of the first to be identified with
the "alternative metal" trend that would come to the fore in the next
decade. Meanwhile, new bands such as New York's Winger and New
Jersey's Skid Row sustained the popularity of the glam metal
Other metal genres: 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s
Drummer Eric Moore from crossover thrash band Suicidal Tendencies.
Many subgenres of heavy metal developed outside of the commercial
mainstream during the 1980s such as crossover thrash. Several
attempts have been made to map the complex world of underground metal,
most notably by the editors of AllMusic, as well as critic Garry
Sharpe-Young. Sharpe-Young's multivolume metal encyclopedia separates
the underground into five major categories: thrash metal, death metal,
black metal, power metal, and the related subgenres of doom and gothic
In 1990, a review in
Rolling Stone suggested retiring the term "heavy
metal" as the genre was "ridiculously vague". The article stated
that the term only fueled "misperceptions of rock & roll bigots
who still assume that five bands as different as Ratt, Extreme,
Anthrax, Danzig and Mother Love Bone" sound the same.
Further information: thrash metal
Thrash metal band
Slayer performing in 2007 in front of a wall of
Thrash metal emerged in the early 1980s under the influence of
hardcore punk and the new wave of British heavy metal,
particularly songs in the revved-up style known as speed metal. The
movement began in the United States, with
Bay Area thrash metal
Bay Area thrash metal being
the leading scene. The sound developed by thrash groups was faster and
more aggressive than that of the original metal bands and their glam
metal successors. Low-register guitar riffs are typically
overlaid with shredding leads. Lyrics often express nihilistic views
or deal with social issues using visceral, gory language. Thrash has
been described as a form of "urban blight music" and "a palefaced
cousin of rap".
"Angel of Death"
Slayer's "Angel of Death", from
Reign in Blood
Reign in Blood (1986), which features
the fast, technically complex musicianship typical of thrash metal
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The subgenre was popularized by the "Big Four of Thrash": Metallica,
Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer. Three German bands, Kreator,
Sodom, and Destruction, played a central role in bringing the style to
Europe. Others, including San Francisco Bay Area's Testament and
Exodus, New Jersey's Overkill, and Brazil's
Sepultura and Sarcófago,
also had a significant impact. Although thrash began as an underground
movement, and remained largely that for almost a decade, the leading
bands of the scene began to reach a wider audience.
the sound into the top 40 of the Billboard album chart in 1986 with
Master of Puppets, the genre's first platinum record. Two years
later, the band's ...And Justice for All hit number 6, while Megadeth
and Anthrax also had top 40 records on the American charts.
Though less commercially successful than the rest of the Big Four,
Slayer released one of the genre's definitive records: Reign in Blood
(1986) was credited for incorporating heavier guitar timbres, and for
including explicit depictions of death, suffering, violence and occult
into thrash metal's lyricism.
Slayer attracted a following among
far-right skinheads, and accusations of promoting violence and Nazi
themes have dogged the band. Even though
Slayer did not receive
substantial media exposure, their music played a key role in the
development of extreme metal.
In the early 1990s, thrash achieved breakout success, challenging and
redefining the metal mainstream. Metallica's self-titled 1991
album topped the Billboard chart, as the band established
international following. Megadeth's Countdown to Extinction
(1992) debuted at number two, Anthrax and
Slayer cracked the top
10, and albums by regional bands such as Testament and Sepultura
entered the top 100.
Death's Chuck Schuldiner, "widely recognized as the father of death
Further information: death metal
Thrash soon began to evolve and split into more extreme metal genres.
"Slayer's music was directly responsible for the rise of death metal,"
MTV News. The NWOBHM band Venom was also an
important progenitor. The death metal movement in both North America
and Europe adopted and emphasized the elements of blasphemy and
diabolism employed by such acts. Florida's Death and the Bay Area's
Possessed are recognized as seminal bands in the style. Both groups
have been credited with inspiring the subgenre's name, the latter via
its 1984 demo Death Metal and the song "Death Metal", from its 1985
debut album Seven Churches (1985). In the late 1980s and early 1990s,
Swedish death metal became notable and melodic forms of death metal
Death metal utilizes the speed and aggression of both thrash and
hardcore, fused with lyrics preoccupied with Z-grade slasher movie
violence and Satanism.
Death metal vocals are typically bleak,
involving guttural "death growls", high-pitched screaming, the "death
rasp", and other uncommon techniques. Complementing the
deep, aggressive vocal style are downtuned, heavily distorted
guitars and extremely fast percussion, often with rapid
double bass drumming and "wall of sound"–style blast beats. Frequent
tempo and time signature changes and syncopation are also
"Suffocation" by Obituary from the album
Slowly We Rot
Slowly We Rot (1989)
Death metal, like thrash metal, generally rejects the theatrics of
earlier metal styles, opting instead for an everyday look of ripped
jeans and plain leather jackets. One major exception to this rule
was Deicide's Glen Benton, who branded an inverted cross on his
forehead and wore armor on stage.
Morbid Angel adopted neo-fascist
imagery. These two bands, along with Death and Obituary, were
leaders of the major death metal scene that emerged in Florida in the
mid-1980s. In the UK, the related style of grindcore, led by bands
Napalm Death and Extreme Noise Terror, emerged from the
Further information: black metal
The first wave of black metal emerged in Europe in the early and
mid-1980s, led by Britain's Venom, Denmark's Mercyful Fate,
Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, and Sweden's Bathory. By
the late 1980s, Norwegian bands such as Mayhem and
Burzum were heading
a second wave.
Black metal varies considerably in style and
production quality, although most bands emphasize shrieked and growled
vocals, highly distorted guitars frequently played with rapid tremolo
picking, a dark atmosphere and intentionally lo-fi production,
with ambient noise and background hiss.
Satanic themes are common in black metal, though many bands take
inspiration from ancient paganism, promoting a return to supposed
pre-Christian values. Numerous black metal bands also "experiment
with sounds from all possible forms of metal, folk, classical music,
electronica and avant-garde".
"It had something to do with production, lyrics, the way they dressed
and a commitment to making ugly, raw, grim stuff. There wasn't a
Although bands such as
Sarcófago had been donning corpsepaint, by
1990, Mayhem was regularly wearing corpsepaint; many other black metal
acts also adopted the look. Bathory inspired the
Viking metal and folk
metal movements and Immortal brought blast beats to the fore. Some
bands in the Scandinavian black metal scene became associated with
considerable violence in the early 1990s, with Mayhem and Burzum
linked to church burnings. Growing commercial hype around death metal
generated a backlash; beginning in Norway, much of the Scandinavian
metal underground shifted to support a black metal scene that resisted
being co-opted by the commercial metal industry.
"De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas"
The title track of Mayhem's
De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994)
By 1992, black metal scenes had begun to emerge in areas outside
Scandinavia, including Germany, France, and Poland. The 1993
murder of Mayhem's
Euronymous by Burzum's
Varg Vikernes provoked
intensive media coverage. Around 1996, when many in the scene
felt the genre was stagnating, several key bands, including
Burzum and Finland's Beherit, moved toward an ambient style, while
symphonic black metal was explored by Sweden's Tiamat and
Switzerland's Samael. In the late 1990s and early 2000s decade,
Dimmu Borgir brought black metal closer to the
mainstream, as did Cradle of Filth.
Sample of Helloween's Halloween from
Keeper of the Seven Keys (1987).
Further information: power metal
Swedish power metal band
HammerFall after a concert in Milan, Italy,
During the late 1980s, the power metal scene came together largely in
reaction to the harshness of death and black metal. Though a
relatively underground style in North America, it enjoys wide
popularity in Europe, Japan, and South America.
Power metal focuses on
upbeat, epic melodies and themes that "appeal to the listener's sense
of valor and loveliness". The prototype for the sound was
established in the mid-to-late 1980s by Germany's Helloween, which
combined the power riffs, melodic approach, and high-pitched, "clean"
singing style of bands like
Judas Priest and
Iron Maiden with thrash's
speed and energy, "crystalliz[ing] the sonic ingredients of what is
now known as power metal".
Traditional power metal bands like Sweden's HammerFall, England's
DragonForce, and Florida's
Iced Earth have a sound clearly indebted to
the classic NWOBHM style. Many power metal bands such as
Florida's Kamelot, Finnish groups Nightwish,
Stratovarius and Sonata
Arctica, Italy's Rhapsody of Fire, and Russia's Catharsis feature a
keyboard-based "symphonic" sound, sometimes employing orchestras and
Power metal has built a strong fanbase in Japan and
South America, where bands like Brazil's Angra and Argentina's Rata
Blanca are popular.
Closely related to power metal is progressive metal, which adopts the
complex compositional approach of bands like Rush and King Crimson.
This style emerged in the United States in the early and mid-1980s,
with innovators such as Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, and Dream
Theater. The mix of the progressive and power metal sounds is typified
by New Jersey's Symphony X, whose guitarist
Michael Romeo is among the
most recognized of latter-day shredders.
Further information: doom metal
Emerging in the mid-1980s with such bands as California's Saint Vitus,
Maryland's The Obsessed, Chicago's Trouble, and Sweden's Candlemass,
the doom metal movement rejected other metal styles' emphasis on
speed, slowing its music to a crawl.
Doom metal traces its roots to
the lyrical themes and musical approach of early Black Sabbath.
Melvins have also been a significant influence on doom metal and a
number of its subgenres. Doom emphasizes melody, melancholy
tempos, and a sepulchral mood relative to many other varieties of
The 1991 release of Forest of Equilibrium, the debut album by UK band
Cathedral, helped spark a new wave of doom metal. During the same
period, the doom-death fusion style of British bands Paradise Lost, My
Dying Bride, and Anathema gave rise to European gothic metal,
with its signature dual-vocalist arrangements, exemplified by Norway's
Theatre of Tragedy
Theatre of Tragedy and Tristania. New York's Type O Negative
introduced an American take on the style.
"Country Doctor" from
Crippled Lucifer (1998) by doom metal band
In the United States, sludge metal, mixing doom and hardcore, emerged
in the late 1980s—
Eyehategod and Crowbar were leaders in a major
Louisiana sludge scene. Early in the next decade, California's Kyuss
and Sleep, inspired by the earlier doom metal bands, spearheaded the
rise of stoner metal, while Seattle's Earth helped develop the
drone metal subgenre. The late 1990s saw new bands form such as
the Los Angeles–based Goatsnake, with a classic stoner/doom sound,
and Sunn O))), which crosses lines between doom, drone, and dark
New York Times
New York Times has compared their sound to an
"Indian raga in the middle of an earthquake".
1990s and early 2000s subgenres and fusions
Further information: alternative metal, rap metal, nu metal, NWOAHM,
industrial metal, and groove metal
"Walk" from Pantera's
Vulgar Display of Power
Vulgar Display of Power (1992), exemplifying the
groove metal style
The era of metal's mainstream dominance in North America came to an
end in the early 1990s with the emergence of Nirvana and other grunge
bands, signaling the popular breakthrough of alternative rock.
Grunge acts were influenced by the heavy metal sound, but rejected the
excesses of the more popular metal bands, such as their "flashy and
virtuosic solos" and "appearance-driven"
Glam metal fell out of favor due not only to the success of
grunge, but also because of the growing popularity of the more
aggressive sound typified by
Metallica and the post-thrash groove
Pantera and White Zombie. In 1991, the band Metallica
released their album Metallica, also known as The Black Album, which
moved the band's sound out of the thrash metal genre and into standard
heavy metal. The album was certified 16× Platinum by the
RIAA. A few new, unambiguously metal bands had commercial success
during the first half of the decade—Pantera's Far Beyond Driven
topped the Billboard chart in 1994—but, "In the dull eyes of the
mainstream, metal was dead". Some bands tried to adapt to the new
Metallica revamped its image: the band members cut
their hair and, in 1996, headlined the alternative musical festival
Lollapalooza founded by
Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell. While
this prompted a backlash among some long-time fans, Metallica
remained one of the most successful bands in the world into the new
Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, one of the most popular acts
identified with alternative metal performing in 1992
Like Jane's Addiction, many of the most popular early 1990s groups
with roots in heavy metal fall under the umbrella term "alternative
metal". Bands in Seattle's grunge scene such as Soundgarden,
credited as making a "place for heavy metal in alternative rock",
Alice in Chains
Alice in Chains were at the center of the alternative metal
movement. The label was applied to a wide spectrum of other acts that
fused metal with different styles:
Faith No More
Faith No More combined their
alternative rock sound with punk, funk, metal, and hip hop; Primus
joined elements of funk, punk, thrash metal, and experimental music;
Tool mixed metal and progressive rock; bands such as Fear Factory,
Nine Inch Nails
Nine Inch Nails began incorporating metal into their
industrial sound, and vice versa, respectively; and Marilyn Manson
went down a similar route, while also employing shock effects of the
sort popularized by Alice Cooper.
Alternative metal artists, though
they did not represent a cohesive scene, were united by their
willingness to experiment with the metal genre and their rejection of
glam metal aesthetics (with the stagecraft of Marilyn Manson and White
Zombie—also identified with alt-metal—significant, if partial,
exceptions). Alternative metal's mix of styles and sounds
represented "the colorful results of metal opening up to face the
In the mid- and late 1990s came a new wave of U.S. metal groups
inspired by the alternative metal bands and their mix of genres.
Dubbed "nu metal", bands such as Slipknot, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit,
Papa Roach, P.O.D.,
Korn and Disturbed incorporated elements ranging
from death metal to hip hop, often including DJs and rap-style vocals.
The mix demonstrated that "pancultural metal could pay off". Nu
metal gained mainstream success through heavy
MTV rotation and Ozzy
Osbourne's 1996 introduction of Ozzfest, which led the media to talk
of a resurgence of heavy metal. In 1999, Billboard noted that
there were more than 500 specialty metal radio shows in the United
States, nearly three times as many as ten years before. While nu
metal was widely popular, traditional metal fans did not fully embrace
the style. By early 2003, the movement's popularity was on the
wane, though several nu metal acts such as
Korn or Limp Bizkit
retained substantial followings.
Recent styles: mid–late 2000s and 2010s
"New metal" redirects here. For the genre of music with a similar
name, see nu metal.
Further information: metalcore, djent, deathcore, melodic metalcore,
mathcore, and NWOAHM
Metalcore, a hybrid of extreme metal and hardcore punk, emerged
as a commercial force in the mid-2000s decade. Through the 1980s and
1990s, metalcore was mostly an underground phenomenon; pioneering
bands include Earth Crisis, other prominent bands include
Converge, Hatebreed and Shai Hulud. By 2004,
melodic metalcore—influenced as well by melodic death metal—was
popular enough that Killswitch Engage's
The End of Heartache
The End of Heartache and
Shadows Fall's The War Within debuted at numbers 21 and 20,
respectively, on the Billboard album chart.
Children of Bodom, performing at the 2007 Masters of Rock festival
Evolving even further from metalcore comes mathcore, a more
rhythmically complicated and progressive style brought to light by
bands such as The Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge, and Protest the
Hero. Mathcore's main defining quality is the use of odd time
signatures, and has been described to possess rhythmic comparability
to free jazz.
Metal remained popular in the 2000s, particularly in continental
Europe. By the new millennium Scandinavia had emerged as one of the
areas producing innovative and successful bands, while Belgium, The
Netherlands and especially Germany were the most significant
markets. Established continental metal bands that placed multiple
albums in the top 20 of the German charts between 2003 and 2008,
including Finnish band Children of Bodom, Norwegian act Dimmu
Borgir, Germany's Blind Guardian and Sweden's
In the 2000s, an extreme metal fusion genre known as deathcore
Deathcore incorporates elements of death metal, hardcore punk
Deathcore features characteristics such as
death metal riffs, hardcore punk breakdowns, death growling, "pig
squeal"-sounding vocals, and screaming.
include Whitechapel, Suicide Silence,
Despised Icon and Carnifex.
The term "retro-metal" has been used to describe bands such as
Texas-based The Sword, California's High on Fire, Sweden's
Witchcraft, and Australia's Wolfmother. The Sword's Age
of Winters (2006) drew heavily on the work of
Black Sabbath and
Witchcraft added elements of folk rock and psychedelic
rock, and Wolfmother's self-titled 2005 debut album had "Deep
Purple-ish organs" and "Jimmy Page-worthy chordal riffing". Mastodon,
which plays in a progressive/sludge style, has inspired claims of a
metal revival in the United States, dubbed by some critics the "New
Wave of American Heavy Metal".
By the early 2010s, metalcore was evolving to more frequently
incorporate synthesizers and elements from genres beyond rock and
metal. The album Reckless & Relentless by British band Asking
Alexandria (which sold 31,000 copies in its first week), and The Devil
Wears Prada's 2011 album
Dead Throne (which sold 32,400 in its first
week) reached up to number 9 and 10, respectively, on the
Billboard 200 chart. In 2013, British band Bring Me the Horizon
released their fourth studio album Sempiternal to critical acclaim.
The album debuted at number 3 on the
UK Album Chart
UK Album Chart and at number 1 in
Australia. The album sold 27,522 copies in the US, and charted at
number 11 on the US Billboard Chart, making it their highest charting
release in America until their follow-up album That's the Spirit
debuted at no. 2 in 2015.
Also in the 2010s, a metal style called "djent" developed as a spinoff
of standard progressive metal.
Djent music uses rhythmic and
technical complexity, heavily distorted, palm-muted guitar
chords, syncopated riffs and polyrhythms alongside virtuoso
soloing. Another typical characteristic is the use of extended
range seven, eight, and nine-string guitars.
Djent bands include
Periphery, TesseracT and Textures.
Heavy metal portal
Heavy metal genres
List of heavy metal bands
List of heavy metal festivals
Timeline of heavy metal music
^ Du Noyer (2003), p. 96; Weinstein (2000), pp. 11–13.
^ Weinstein (2000), pp. 14, 118.
^ a b Fast (2005), pp. 89–91; Weinstein (2000), pp. 7, 8, 23, 36,
^ Tom Larson (2004). History of Rock and Roll. Kendall/Hunt Pub.
pp. 183–187. ISBN 978-0-7872-9969-9.
^ a b Walser (1993), p. 6.
^ "As much as Sabbath started it, Priest were the ones who took it out
of the blues and straight into metal." Bowe, Brian J. Judas Priest:
Metal Gods. ISBN 0-7660-3621-9.
^ a b Pareles, Jon. "Heavy Metal, Weighty Words" The New York Times,
July 10, 1988. Retrieved on November 14, 2007.
^ a b Weinstein (2000), p. 25
^ Hannum, Terence (18 March 2016). "Instigate Sonic Violence: A
Not-so-Brief History of the Synthesizer's Impact on Heavy Metal".
noisey.vice.com. Vice. Retrieved 7 January 2017. In almost every
subgenre of heavy metal, synthesizers held sway. Look at Cynic, who on
their progressive death metal opus Focus (1993) had keyboards appear
on the album and during live performances, or British gothic doom band
My Dying Bride, who relied heavily on synths for their 1993 album,
Turn Loose the Swans. American noise band Today is the Day used
synthesizers on their 1996 self titled album to powerfully add to
their din. Voivod even put synthesizers to use for the first time on
1991’s Angel Rat and 1993’s The Outer Limits, played by both
guitarist Piggy and drummer Away. The 1990s were a gold era for the
use of synthesizers in heavy metal, and only paved the way for the
further explorations of the new millennia.
^ a b c Weinstein (2000), p. 23
^ Walser, Robert (1993). Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and
Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Wesleyan University Press. p. 10.
^ a b Hodgson, Peter (9 April 2011). "METAL 101: Face-melting guitar
tones". iheartguitarblog.com. I Heart Guitar. Retrieved 26 June
^ Weinstein, p. 24
^ Walser, p. 50
^ Dickinson, Kay (2003). Movie Music, the Film Reader. Psychology
Press. p. 158.
^ Grow, Kory (February 26, 2010). "Final Six: The Six Best/Worst
Things to Come out of Nu-Metal". Revolver magazine. Retrieved
September 21, 2015. The death of the guitar solo[:] In its efforts to
tune down and simplify riffs, nu-metal effectively drove a stake
through the heart of the guitar solo
^ "Lesson four- Power chords". Marshall Amps.
^ Damage Incorporated:
Metallica and the Production of Musical
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^ Weinstein (2000), p. 26
^ Cited in Weinstein (2000), p. 26
^ a b c d Weinstein (2000), p. 24
^ Weinstein (2009), p. 24
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November 6, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Bass Player, February 2005.
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^ Wall, Mick. Lemmy: The Definitive Biography. Orion Publishing Group,
^ Dawson, Michael. "Lamb of God's Chris Adler: More than Meets the
Eye", August 17, 2006. Modern
Drummer Online. Retrieved on November
^ a b Berry and Gianni (2003), p. 85
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Black Sabbath and the Rise of Heavy Metal
Music. Ashgate Publishing Ltd. p. 130.
^ Arnett (1996), p. 14
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^ Paul Sutcliffe quoted in Waksman, Steve. "Metal, Punk, and
Motörhead: Generic Crossover in the Heart of the Punk Explosion".
Echo: A Music-Centered Journal 6.2 (Fall 2004). Retrieved on November
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and the Written Word. Routledge. pp. 87–91.
^ Walser, Robert (1993). Running with the Devil:Power, Gender and
Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Wesleyan University Press.
^ Eddy, Chuck (July 1, 2011). "Women of Metal". Spin. SpinMedia
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Metal". PopMatters. September 20, 2013.
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Guitar Legends, April 1997, p. 99
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Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Wesleyan University Press.
^ See, e.g., Glossary of Guitar Terms. Mel Bay Publications. Retrieved
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^ "Shaping Up and Riffing Out: Using Major and Minor Power Chords to
Add Colour to Your Parts", Guitar Legends, April 1997, p. 97
^ Schonbrun (2006), p. 22
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^ Marshall, Wolf. "Power Lord—Climbing Chords, Evil Tritones, Giant
Callouses", Guitar Legends, April 1997, p. 29
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Harmony". Advanced Musicology. IAML Finland. 1.
^ The first explicit prohibition of that interval seems to occur with
the "development of Guido of Arezzo's hexachordal system which made B
flat a diatonic note, namely as the 4th degree of the hexachordal on
F. From then until the end of Renaissance the tritone, nicknamed the
'diabolus in musica', was regarded as an unstable interval and
rejected as a consonance" (Sadie, Stanley . "Tritone", in The
New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1st ed. MacMillan, pp.
154–155. ISBN 0-333-23111-2. See also Arnold, Denis .
"Tritone", in The New Oxford Companion to Music, Volume 1: A–J.
Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-311316-3). During the Romantic
era and in modern classical music composers have used it freely,
exploiting the evil connotations with which it is culturally
^ Kennedy (1985), "Pedal Point", p. 540
^ Walser, Robert (2014). Running With the Devil: Power, Gender, and
Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Wesleyan University Press.
^ Walser (1993), p. 58
^ Walser, Robert. "Heavy metal". Grove Music Online. Accessed March 6,
(subscription required for access).
^ Wagner, Wilson, pg. 156.
^ See Cook and Dibben (2001), p. 56
^ "Preferred Music Style Is Tied to Personality - Psych Central". May
^ "Science Suggests Metal Fans And Classical Fans Are Identical
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^ Cope, Andrew L.
Black Sabbath and the Rise of Heavy Metal Music.
Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2010. p. 141
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2010. Retrieved June 22, 2013.
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PMRC Hearings' 30th Anniversary".
Huffington Post. Huffington Post. Retrieved February 3, 2016.
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^ VH1: Behind The Music—Ozzy Osbourne, VH1. Paramount Television,
^ a b Kahn-Harris, Keith, Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the
Edge, Oxford: Berg, 2007, ISBN 1-84520-399-2. p. 28
^ Whitaker, Brian (June 2, 2003). "Highway to Hell". Guardian.
Retrieved 2009-03-03. "
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BBC News. August 4, 2001. Retrieved 2009-03-03.
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^ Weinstein (2000), p. 27
^ Weinstein (2000), p. 129
^ Rahman, Nader. "Hair Today Gone Tomorrow" Archived December 6, 2007,
at the Wayback Machine.. Star Weekend Magazine, July 28, 2006.
Retrieved on November 20, 2007.
^ Weinstein (2000), p. 127
^ Pospiszyl, Tomáš. "Heavy Metal". Umelec, January 2001. Retrieved
on November 20, 2007. Archived June 3, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
^ a b Thompson (2007), p. 135
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Selected Images and Quotes". Feral House. Archived from the original
on November 11, 2007. Retrieved November 25, 2007.
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^ Appleford, Steve. "Odyssey of the Devil Horns". MK Magazine,
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^ Weinstein, p. 95
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Da Capo Press. pp. 228–229.
^ Weinstein, pp. 103, 7, 8, 104
^ Weinstein, pp. 102, 112
^ Weinstein, pp. 181, 207, 294
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subculture of alienation", Jeffrey Arnett. In Qualitative Sociology;
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^ Weinstein, pp. 46, 60, 154, 273
^ Weinstein, p. 166
^ Dunn, "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey" B000EGEJIY (2006)
^ Arnett, Jeffrey Jensen (1996). Metalheads: Heavy Metal Music and
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Cheer, given to Vanilla Fudgeish heavy-handedness in all that it does,
has come out with a good album, '
Led Zeppelin II' (Atlantic SD 8236).
Sure, it's 'heavy.' Sure, it's volume-rock at a time when the trend
seems to be toward acoustical niceties of country music".
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^ Rockwell, John. New York Times, August 13, 1979, p. C16
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^ Kevin Holm-Hudson, Progressive Rock Reconsidered, (Routledge, 2002),
^ Du Noyer (2003), pp. 96, 78
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guitarists like Joe Hill Louis, Willie Johnson (with the early Howlin'
Wolf band) and
Pat Hare (with Little Junior Parker) played driving
rhythms and scorching, distorted solos that might be counted the
distant ancestors of heavy metal.
^ a b Robert Palmer, "Church of the Sonic Guitar", pp. 13–38 in
Anthony DeCurtis, Present Tense, Duke University Press, 1992,
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^ Wilkerson (2006), p. 19.
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^ Polly Marshall, The God of Hellfire, the Crazy Life and Times of
Arthur Brown, ISBN 0-946719-77-2, SAF Publishing, 2005, page 175.
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Arthur Brown, ISBN 0-946719-77-2, SAF Publishing, 2005, page 103.
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^ a b Charlton (2003), p. 241
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