How Heavy Metal Music Fought for Its Place in the 1980s

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


In the 1980s, heavy metal music was often misunderstood and ridiculed by the mainstream. But metalheads held on to their love of the genre, and eventually, heavy metal fought its way into the mainstream. Here’s how metal music took over the world in the 1980s.

The Birth of Heavy Metal

The 1980s were a time of transition for heavy metal music. The genre had become increasingly popular in the 1970s, but it was now being threatened by the rise of punk rock. Heavy metal bands responded by becoming louder, faster, and more aggressive. This new sound, known as “metal”, would come to define the genre for the rest of the century.

The 1970s

The 1970s were a tumultuous time for music. Bands were exploring new territory, breaking down barriers, and pushing the envelope. This was especially true for heavy metal, which was evolving and growing at a rapid pace.

The genre took root in the late 1960s with bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple. These bands laid the groundwork for what would become one of the most popular and influential musical genres of all time.

In the 1970s, heavy metal continued to evolve and grow. New subgenres emerged, such as glam metal and thrash metal. Classic bands like Queen, Kiss, and Van Halen rose to prominence. And in the 1980s, metal would reach new heights with the advent of hair metal.

Despite its popularity, heavy metal was often met with criticism in the 1970s. Some felt that the music was too loud and aggressive. Others accused it of glorifying violence and promoting Satanism.

But heavy metal persevered, thanks in large part to its passionate and devoted fans. In the 1980s,metal would finally be accepted by the mainstream and achieve commercial success on a scale never before seen.

The 1980s

The 1980s was the decade that saw the birth of heavy metal music. This genre of music was characterized by its aggressive, loud, and often distorted sound. While it had been around in some form or another since the late 1960s, it was in the 1980s that heavy metal really came into its own.

The 1980s was a decade of huge changes in the music industry. With the advent of MTV and the rise of commercial radio, music was becoming more and more accessible to a wider audience. At the same time, there was a growing interest in heavier and more extreme forms of music. This combination of factors led to the perfect conditions for heavy metal to flourish.

During the early 1980s, heavy metal bands like Metallica, Anthrax, and Megadeth were just starting to make a name for themselves. They were signed to major labels and their albums were being played on radio and MTV. However, they still faced a lot of resistance from critics and music industry insiders who dismissed them as “noise” or “a passing fad.”

In response to this criticism, heavy metal bands began to experiment with different styles and sounds. They also started to produce more complex and sophisticated albums. As a result, heavy metal became more respected as an art form. By the end of the decade, it had established itself as a legitimate genre of music with a large and devoted following.

The Struggles of Heavy Metal

Heavy metal music has had a rough time being accepted by the general public. It has been accused of everything from promoting satanism to being a bad influence on children. In the 1980s, it was especially hard for heavy metal bands to get any radio play. They were often boycotted by record companies and venues.

Economic Struggles

The early 1980s were a time of struggle for heavy metal bands. Many of the most popular hard rock and metal bands of the 1970s, such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Kiss, had either broken up or were in decline. At the same time, a new generation of punk rock bands, led by the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, was disparaging metal as music for “dinosaurs.” Metal continued to be popular with fans, but it was struggling to find its place in the larger cultural landscape.

In 1982, one band would release an album that would change metal forever: Metallica’s “Kill ‘Em All.” Although not commercially successful at first, “Kill ‘Em All” was a critical success, and its mix of speed, aggression, and technical proficiency would set the standard for thrash metal. The album’s success proved that there was still an audience forMetal Music forceful guitars and pounding drums.

Throughout the 1980s, Thrash Metal bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax would redefine what heavy metal could be. They took cues from punk rock’s DIY ethic, creating a sound that was fast, aggressive, and above all else — extreme. By the end of the decade, these bands had found commercial success without compromising their sound or their vision. They had carved out a place for heavy metal in the 1980s — and beyond.


In the 1980s, American heavy metal music found itself under fire from the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), a conservative group that pushed for the labeling of music containing explicit content. The PMRC saw heavy metal as a danger to society, particularly to young people, and they lobbied hard to have the music censored.

The PMRC’s efforts resulted in the creation of the now-infamous “ Parental Advisory: Explicit Content ” label, which can be found on many albums to this day. While the PMRC’s campaign against heavy metal was ultimately unsuccessful, it did force the industry to take notice of the genre and its growing popularity.

Today, heavy metal is more popular than ever, and its musicians are some of the most respected in the world. But it wasn’t always this way—in the 1980s, heavy metal was fighting for its place in the music industry.

The MTV Generation

In the 1980s, television played a pivotal role in the success of heavy metal music. The advent of MTV gave artists like Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and Def Leppard a platform to showcase their music to a wide audience. Heavy metal music was no longer confined to underground clubs and small venues; it was now being seen and heard by millions of people.

However, not everyone was a fan of this new era of heavy metal. Critics claimed that the music was too loud, too aggressive, and too sexualized. They also argued that MTV was exposing children to this type of music without their parents’ permission or knowledge.

Heavy metal bands responded to these criticisms by fighting for their place in the 1980s music scene. They argued that their music was a form of expression and artistry that deserved to be heard and seen by as many people as possible. They also found ways to work around MTV’s censors by using creative visuals and lyrics that conveyed their message without resorting to profanity or violence.

In the end, heavy metal prevailed and cemented its place as one of the most popular genres of music in the world. Thanks to MTV, heavy metal reached a whole new level of popularity in the 1980s, and it has continued to thrive in the decades since then.

The Triumph of Heavy Metal

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) was a musical movement that started in the late 1970s and peaked in the early 1980s. It was a reaction to the declining popularity of hard rock music in the United Kingdom.

In the late 1970s, a number of bands influenced by hard rock and punk rock began to emerge in the UK. These bands were heavier and more aggressive than what was currently popular, and they were rejected by the mainstream music press. Despite this, they achieved some success with underground audiences.

By the early 1980s, NWOBHM bands such as Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, and Judas Priest had become commercially successful. They were able to break through to a wider audience by working with producers who understood how to record them properly and by playing an exciting and energetic live show. This led to a renewed interest in hard rock and heavy metal music, which would go on to dominate popular music in the 1980s.

The American Heavy Metal Scene

American heavy metal music has its roots in the hard rock and blues-rock of the 1960s and 1970s. Bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple were hugely popular in both America and Europe, and their brand of hard-edged rock laid the foundation for what would become heavy metal. In spite of its British origins, however, heavy metal truly came into its own in the United States in the 1980s.

The American heavy metal scene of the 1980s was a powerful and vibrant force, with bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, and Exodus leading the way. These bands took the blueprint laid down by their British predecessors and added a new level of aggression and intensity. The result was a sound that was both heavier and more aggressive than anything that had come before.

The popularity of American heavy metal was not limited to just music fans; it also gained a huge following among young people who were attracted to its rebellious image. Heavy metal fashion became iconic in the 1980s, with band t-shirts, leather jackets, and spiked wristbands becoming commonplace among metal fans.

The 1980s also saw the rise of metal festivals such as Monsters of Rock and Day on the Green, which helped to further cement heavy metal’s place in American culture. By the end of the decade, American heavy metal had become a mainstream phenomenon, with bands like Metallica selling millions of records and headlining stadium tours around the world.

The Legacy of Heavy Metal

In the 1980s, heavy metal music was often derided by the mainstream media and cultural institutions. Critics accused it of being misogynistic, satanic, and overly violent. But heavy metal fans were passionate about their music, and they fought back against this negative perception.

They argued that heavy metal was actually a positive force in society, one that could provide an outlet for young people’s aggression and give them a sense of belonging. They also pointed to the fact that many heavy metal bands were actually quite talented musicians.

Over time, these fans succeeded in changing the way the public thought about heavy metal music. Today, it is widely accepted as a legitimate genre of music, with many bands achieving mainstream success. The legacy of heavy metal is one of passion, perseverance, and ultimately triumph.

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