The History of Heavy Metal Music: A Documentary

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


If you’re a fan of heavy metal music, then you’ll want to check out this new documentary. The History of Heavy Metal Music tells the story of how this genre of music came to be, and features some of the biggest names in the business.

Origins of Heavy Metal

The origins of heavy metal music can be traced back to the 1950s, when a new type of music called rock and roll began to emerge. Rock and roll was a fusion of blues, country, and rhythm and blues, and it quickly became popular with young people. In the 1960s, a new generation of British musicians began to experiment with rock and roll, and they developed a heavier, more aggressive sound that came to be known as heavy metal.

Hard Rock and Heavy Metal

Origins of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Music

The earliest origins of hard rock and heavy metal can be traced back to the 1950s, when a number of factors combined to produce these new genres of music. One important factor was the development of electric guitars and amplifiers, which allowed bands to create louder and more aggressive sounds. Another factor was the influence of British bands like The Beatles, who popularized a harder-edged form of rock music known as “beat” or “ Merseybeat.”

In the early 1960s, a number of American bands began to experiment with these new sounds, resulting in the development of what would later be known as hard rock. Among these pioneering bands were The Kingsmen, whose 1963 hit “Louie Louie” is often cited as an early example of hard rock. The genre really began to take off in the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, with the rise of bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath. These bands took the basic elements of hard rock and added a heavier sound that was influenced by blues music. This new sound became known as heavy metal.

Heavy metal soon became its own distinct genre, characterized by its use of distorted guitars, thundering drums, and high-pitched vocals. Metal bands also began to experiment with different styles and speeds, resulting in subgenres like speed metal (Judas Priest) and thrash metal (Metallica). In the 1980s, another subgenre known as hair metal emerged, featuring bands like Mötley Crüe and Poison whose image was built around their long hair and flashy clothes.

Today, heavy metal remains one of the most popular genres of music in the world. While it has undergone many changes over the years, it still retains its basic elements: loud guitars,…

The British Invasion

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of British rock bands began to experiment with elements of hard rock and heavy metal, including The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. This “British Invasion” of hard rock coincided with the popularity of blues rock in Britain and America. These bands blended the heavy, distorted electric guitar sound of British blues rock with the passion and energy of American garage rock.

The Rise of Heavy Metal

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a new form of rock music started to take shape. This music was heavier than anything that had come before, and it was loud and angry. It was the perfect music for a generation of young people who were angry about the Vietnam War, racism, and other social problems. This new music was called heavy metal, and it would soon take the world by storm.

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) was a musical movement that started in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s and achieved international attention by the early 1980s. The movement developed as a reaction to the decline of early 1970s rock music, particularly that of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath.

In May 1980, Sounds published an article entitled “The New Heavy Metal Revolt” which detailed the rise of two new genres: power pop and, more importantly, a new sound called heavy metal. The article described Judas Priest as “the living embodiment of all that’s best about [the] new wave of British heavy metal.” The NWOBHM had arrived.

Heavy metal had been developing in England since the late 1960s but it was not until the release of Judas Priest’s British Steel in 1980 that the sound began to gain mainstream attention. Other bands such as Iron Maiden, Saxon and Def Leppard also released debut albums in 1980, helping to further consolidate the NWOBHM sound. By 1981, the movement was starting to gain momentum in America with Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All and Diamond Head’s Lightning to the Nations getting heavy rotation on college radio stations.

The NWOBHM finally broke into the mainstream in 1982 with Def Leppard’s Pyromania and Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast both entering the UK album chart at number one. These two albums would go on to become two of the most influential records in heavy metal history. The NWOBHM had reached its peak; from here on out, heavy metal would never be the same again.

American Heavy Metal

American heavy metal began in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the rise of bands such as Van Halen, Aerosmith, Kiss, Queen, and Black Sabbath. These bands became known for their distorted guitars, powerful vocals, and aggressive lyrics. In the 1980s, heavy metal music became more popular with the release of albums by British bands such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. American heavy metal bands such as Metallica and Megadeth also gained popularity during this time.

The 1990s saw the rise of nu metal, a subgenre of heavy metal that combines elements of hip-hop and alternative rock. Bands such as Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Slipknot helped to bring nu metal to the mainstream. In the 2000s and 2010s, there has been a resurgence of interest in heavy metal music with the rise of bands such as Avenged Sevenfold, Slipknot, and Lamb of God.

The Golden Age of Heavy Metal

Thrash Metal

Thrash metal, or simply thrash, is a heavy metal subgenre that emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s. With roots in hardcore punk and blues rock, thrash metal groups typically use fast-paced riffs, overdriven guitars and emphatic rhythms. The lyrical subject matter often deals with social issues and reflects antisocial behaviors.

Thrash metal developed in response to the new Wave of British Heavy Metal, which emphasized speed and aggression. The first wave of thrash was led by Venom, Motörhead, Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth. Also during the 1980s, other styles of metal gained popularity in reaction to thrash metal, such as black metal and death metal.

The big four thrash metal bands–Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer–continue to tour and release new albums. Although other active bands from the first wave of thrash have not been as commercially successful as these four–such as Exodus and Testament–their members have also achieved success with other projects. In the 2000s decade, a new generation of thrash bands influenced by the original Big Four emerged; these include Shadows Fall, Lamb of God and Trivium.

Death Metal

Death metal is a subgenre of heavy metal music that emerged in the late 1980s. It is characterized by its aggressive, distorted sound and its lyrics which often deal with death, violence, and the occult.

Death metal bands typically have fast tempos, low-tuned guitars, and intense growling vocals. They also often employ blast beats, which are rapid drum beats that create a sense of chaos. The genre is often associated with horror and the occult, and death metal lyrics often deal with topics such as necrophilia, cannibalism, and sadism.

Death metal has its roots in thrash metal and hardcore punk, and it was initially popularized by bands such as Venom, Slaughter, and Possessed. In the 1990s, death metal experienced a major resurgence in popularity, led by bands such as Death, Obituary, and Morbid Angel. In the 2000s and 2010s, death metal has continued to be popular, with bands such as Behemoth, Cannibal Corpse, and Dying Fetus achieving widespread success.

The Modern Era of Heavy Metal

The modern era of heavy metal music began in the 1980s with the rise of bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. These bands took the sound and attitude of 1970s bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest and combined it with the speed and aggression of punk rock. The result was a new form of music that was heavier and more aggressive than anything that had come before.

Nu Metal

Nu metal emerged in the early 1990s as a fusion of heavy metal and alternative rock. It was pioneered by bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax, who were all well-established in the heavy metal scene. They were joined by a number of younger bands who blended elements of alternative rock with heavy metal to create a new sound.

Nu metal was initially met with some skepticism from the hardcore heavy metal community, but it soon found its own niche. The new style was characterized by its aggressive sound and its use of distorted guitars, drum machines, and rap-style vocals. Nu metal bands also often incorporated elements from other genres, such as hip hop, electronica, and even pop music.

The nu metal scene reached its peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the success of bands such as Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. By the mid-2000s, however, nu metal began to decline in popularity, as many fans turned to newer styles such as emo andmetalcore. Nevertheless, nu metal continues to be a significant force in the heavy music scene, with a number of active bands keeping the sound alive.


Metalcore is a subgenre of heavy metal music that combines elements of both hardcore punk and heavy metal. It is commonly considered a hybrid genre, with the earliest examples of the genre dating back to the mid-1980s.

Metalcore typically features a combination of fast tempos, breakdowns, and Death growls. Breakdowns are slow, intense passages characterized by low-register guitar riffs and a percussive rhythm that encourage headbanging. Common lyrical themes in Metalcore include individualism, religion, betrayal, society and personal struggles.

Though its origins are in hardcore punk and thrash metal, Metalcore has been influenced by a number of other genres, including post-hardcore, melodic death metal, and even black metal. Many Metalcore bands have been able to find success within the mainstream music industry; in fact, one of the most successful Heavy Metal bands of all time – Metallica – began as a Metalcore band before evolving into Thrash Metal.

The Future of Heavy Metal

As with any genre of music, the future of heavy metal is always in flux. New bands come and go, old bands break up or change their sound, and new styles and subgenres emerge. That said, there are a few things that seem to be trends in the world of heavy metal that could indicate where the genre is headed in the next few years.

One trend that has been happening for a while now is the increasing popularity of metalcore. This subgenre combines the aggressive sound of metal with the catchy hooks and melodies of punk and hardcore. As a result, it has become one of the most popular genres in heavy metal, especially among younger fans.

Another trend that has been gaining momentum in recent years is the rise of female-fronted bands. While women have always been involved in heavy metal (as musicians, fans, and industry professionals), they have traditionally been underrepresented in the genre. However, this is starting to change, as more and more bands are featuring women as their lead singers and guitarists. This is not only making heavy metal more diverse and inclusive, but also resulting in some truly amazing music being created.

Finally, another trend that seems to be growing in the world of heavy metal is a return to its roots. In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in classic heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. This has led to a resurgence of traditional sounds and styles, as well as an increased appreciation for the history of the genre.

While it’s impossible to say definitively what the future holds for heavy metal, these trends suggest that it is continuing to evolve and grow in new and exciting ways.

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