Heavy Metal Music in the 80’s

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Looking back at the history of heavy metal music, the 1980s was a truly defining decade. From the rise of classic bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden to the emergence of new subgenres like thrash metal, the 80s was a time of incredible innovation and creativity. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some of the most important moments in heavy metal history, and explore how this music has continued to evolve in the decades since.

The Birth of Heavy Metal

In the early 80’s, a new type of music was born. This music was louder, faster, and heavier than anything that had come before it. This new music was called heavy metal. Heavy metal was created by bands like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest. These bands took the sounds of hard rock and made them even heavier. They also added in elements of punk and blues to create a new sound that was all their own.

Hard Rock music of the late 60’s and early 70’s

The heavy metal of the late 60’s and early 70’s can be seen as a direct reaction to the frivolity and peace-and-love mindset of the hippie counterculture of the previous decade. Where the hippies celebrated free love and personal exploration, Heavy Metal countered with dark themes of cynicism, death, destruction, and32 otherworldly forces.

The pioneers of this new style were bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin. These bands took elements from existing genres like blues and psychedelic rock, and combined them with louder guitars and a more aggressive attitude. The result was a sound that was both heavier and more aggressive than anything that had come before.

These early metal bands laid the foundation for later acts like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Motörhead to build upon. The80’s would see the genre explode in popularity with bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax becoming household names. Metal would go on to become one of the most popular genres of music in the world.

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) was created by bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Venom and Diamond Head. This new style was influenced by the existing hard rock and punk rock scenes, as well as early heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. The sound of NWOBHM was often faster and more aggressive than that of its predecessors.

In 1981, Motörhead released their album Ace of Spades, which became one of the most influential heavy metal albums of all time. Other notable NWOBHM bands include Def Leppard, Saxon and Metallica. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal had a significant impact on the development of subsequent heavy metal subgenres such as power metal and thrash metal.

The Golden Age of Heavy Metal

The 80’s were a golden age for heavy metal music. Some of the most influential bands in the genre emerged during this decade, including Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer. The music was fast, aggressive, and loud, and it spoke to the angry and misunderstood youth of the time. Heavy metal in the 80’s was more than just music; it was a way of life.

The New Wave of American Heavy Metal

The New Wave of American Heavy Metal (often abbreviated as NWOAHM) is a musical movement that started in the United States during the early to mid-1980s and achieved international attention by the early 1990s. Although it shares its name with an earlier movement in the United Kingdom, the two are separate and sometimes incompatible scenes, with different roots and different evolutionary paths.

American metalcore bandKillswitch Engage is often credited for revitalizing interest in heavy metal in the 2000s.

The new wave of American heavy metal (NWOAHM) refers to a movement in heavy metal music that began in the United States during the early to mid-1980s and achieved mainstream success by the early 1990s. The movement came to prominence as a reaction against the declining commercial viability of thrash metal in particular and heavy metal music in general. Taking cues from punk rock, bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer and Exodus blended elements of speed metal and thrash metal with a more “punk” sensibility, resulting in a more aggressive sound that was sometimes faster but not always as technically proficient as thrash. In addition, many of these bands badge themselves as “street tough” or “blue collar,” distancing themselves from both the glam image of oldermetal bands as well as from their own hardcore punk roots. This image was personified by Metallica’s bassist Cliff Burton who dressed like a working man rather than a rock star.

The Big Four of Thrash Metal

The Big Four of Thrash Metal are the four biggest and most influential bands in the genre: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. These bands are credited with helping to define and popularize thrash metal in the 1980s.

Metallica is often cited as the biggest and most influential thrash metal band. They helped to pioneer the genre with their 1981 debut album Kill ‘Em All, and their 1986 album Master of Puppets is considered one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time. Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax are also highly respected within the metal community, and each has had a significant impact on the development of thrash metal.

The Decline of Heavy Metal

In the 80’s, heavy metal was one of the most popular genres of music. However, by the end of the decade, the genre had declined in popularity. There are a few theories as to why this happened. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

The Grunge Movement

In the early 1990s, a new musical movement emerged from Seattle, Washington, and quickly gained popularity throughout the United States. This movement was known as “grunge”, and it brought about the decline of heavy metal music in the mainstream. Grunge is a subgenre of alternative rock that combines elements of punk rock and heavy metal. The sound is typically characterized by distorted guitars, grungy vocals, and a overall darker tone than other forms of rock music.

The grunge movement began in the late 1980s with bands such as Green River and Mudhoney, who were signed to independent record labels. In 1991, Nirvana released their album Nevermind, which became a huge success and popularized grunge to a wider audience. Other grunge bands such as Pearl Jam and Soundgarden also experienced great success in the early 1990s.

The popularity of grunge signaled the decline of heavy metal music in the mainstream. Grunge was seen as a more authentic form of rock music than heavy metal, which was often criticized for being too commercialized and “fake”. In addition, many heavy metal bands lost their record contracts due to the decline in popularity of the genre. As a result, heavy metal music became less visible in the mainstream media and was mostly relegated to underground audiences.

Despite the decline of heavy metal in the mainstream, the genre continues to be popular among underground audiences. There are many active heavy metal scenes around the world, and the genre has continued to evolve over time.

The Rise of Nu Metal

Nu metal (sometimes stylized as nü-metal) is a subgenre of heavy metal that combines elements of traditional metal with elements of other music genres such as hip hop, alternative rock, and grunge. Nu metal bands have drawn elements and influences from a variety of musical styles, including multiple subgenres of heavy metal. Nu metal rarely features guitar solos; the genre is heavily syncopated and based on guitar riffs. Many nu metal guitarists use seven-string guitars that are down-tuned to drop B or C♯, or even lower tunings such as A♭ or G♭. DJing is sometimes featured in nu metal to provide instrumentation similar to sampling, turntablism, and breakbeat.[1][2][3] Vocal styles in nu metal include singing, rapping, screaming and growling. Nu metal is one of the key genres of the new wave of American heavy metal.

Nu metal became popular in the late 1990s with bands and artists such as Korn, Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, System of a Down and Linkin Park. Other notable bands include Coal Chamber, Staind, Godsmack, Spineshank

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