The History of Heavy Metal Music: An Encyclopedia

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

The history of heavy metal music is long and storied, full of fascinating characters, events, and developments. This encyclopedia seeks to document it all, from the early days of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest to the present day.

Origins of heavy metal

Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It largely derives its sound from a heavy use of distorted electric guitars, bass guitar, and drums. Although the origin of the term is uncertain, some suspect that it may have come from a William Burroughs novel. Heavy metal music has since gone on to influence a number of other genres.

Hard rock and proto-metal

In the mid-1960s, a number of bands began pushing the limits of blues rock into a new genre which would be called heavy metal. The word “heavy” Referring to the bands’ loud sound, and “metal” referring to the use of distorted guitars and extended soloing. One of the first bands to self-identify as heavy metal was Blue Cheer, whose songs “Summertime Blues” and “Out of Focus” were released in 1967 and 1968 respectively. These two songs are often cited as seminal works in the development of heavy metal.

Deep Purple’s 1968 song “Hush”, Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut album from 1970, and Led Zeppelin’s early material are also often cited as important early examples of heavy metal. Proto-metal bands such as Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, Cream, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, Atomic Rooster and Captain Beyond were influential in the development of hard rock and heavy metal music in the 1970s.

British Invasion and garage rock

The British Invasion was a movement in the 1960s when rock and pop music performers from Britain, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks, became popular in the United States. At the same time, American garage rock bands such as the Stooges, MC5, and the New York Dolls were also becoming popular. These two movements were influenced by each other and led to the development of heavy metal music.

Development of heavy metal

Though use of amplification in rock music can be traced back to the early 1930s and 1940s with electric blues guitarists such as T-Bone Walker and John Lee Hooker, heavy metal did not take shape as a distinct genre until the late 1960s or early 1970s. Prior to this, music classified as “heavy metal” consisted of a fairly diverse set of styles, including the garage rock of the 1960s, psychedelia, and hard rock.

Psychedelic rock and early metal

In the mid-1960s, after the release of the Beatles’ innovative Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, many rock musicians began to experiment with mind-altering drugs such as LSD. This “acid rock” movement culminated in San Francisco with the rise of bands such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin. Musicians in Britain—such as Pink Floyd and Cream—also experimented with long instrumental passages and dizzying sound effects that owed more to jazz and Indian music than to anything previously heard in rock. These bands expanded rock’s sonic possibilities and paved the way for subsequent heavy metal artists.

Psychedelic drugs not only influenced the sounds of early metal, they also contributed to the development of the genre’s visual aesthetic. Borrowing heavily from underground comics, psychedelic artists such as Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding and Cream drummer Ginger Baker created trippy album covers featuring distorted typefaces, melting images, day-glo colors, and Tijuana Bible-style drawings. These artworks perfectly complemented the music contained within: lengthy songs full of mind-bending sonic textures designed to enhance listeners’ drug experiences.

Glam rock and arena rock

Glam rock and arena rock were two genres that developed in the 1970s and had a significant impact on the development of heavy metal.

Glam rock was a genre of rock music that emerged in the early 1970s. It was characterized by a highly theatrical style, featuring glittery costumes, makeup, and hairstyles, as well as extravagant stage shows. Glam rock was initially associated with artists such as Marc Bolan and David Bowie, who achieved mainstream success with their glam-influenced albums.

Arena rock is a type of rock music that evolved in the mid-1970s. It is characterized by its grandiose sound and by its use of massive stages and elaborate lighting effects. Arena rock was pioneered by bands such as Queen and Led Zeppelin, who were able to fill large stadiums with their fans.

Both genres of music influenced the development of heavy metal, particularly in terms of fashion and stagecraft. Many heavy metal bands adopted the visual style of glam rock, while others attempted to replicate the sound and spectacle of arena rock.

New wave of British heavy metal

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was a musical movement that started in the late 1970s and peaked in the early 1980s.Heavy metal had been declining in popularity since the mid-1970s, but the New Wave of British Heavy Metal revitalized the genre and helped to make it more popular than ever before.

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was characterized by its aggressive, loud sound, as well as its focus onEarlier bands such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin had influenced the sound of heavy metal, but the new wave of bands took those influences and created a new, heavier sound. Bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Diamond Head, Saxon, and Def Leppard were at the forefront of this new musical movement.

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was predominantly a British phenomenon, but it also had a significant impact on the development of heavy metal music in other countries. In particular, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal had a significant impact on the development of thrash metal in the United States. Bands such as Metallica and Megadeth were heavily influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and went on to become some of the most popular thrash metal bands of all time.

Popularity of heavy metal

Though its popularity has always been largely limited to insider crowds, since the 2010s, heavy metal has begun to break through to a far wider audience, becoming one of the most commonly enjoyed genres of music in the world. In this article, we’ll explore the origins, rise to popularity, and current state of heavy metal music.

Heavy metal in the 1980s

By the early 1980s, hard rock had been reinvigorated by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), a movement that saw bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Diamond Head achieve mainstream success. This was followed by the rise of American heavy metal bands like Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax, who would go on to dominate the genre in the 1980s and beyond. Thrash metal, a subgenre of heavy metal characterized by aggressive guitars and fast tempos, also gained traction in the 1980s with bands like Slayer, Exodus, and Death Angel leading the way.

Heavy metal in the 1990s and 2000s

The 1990s were a tough time for metal, as the popularity of alternative rock and grunge led to a decline in the genre’s mainstream visibility. However, many metal bands continued to find success during this period, particularly in Europe and South America, where metal never fell out of favor. In the United States, metal enjoyed something of a resurgence thanks to the rise of Metallica and other so-called “metalheads,” who brought the music back to its hard-rocking roots.

The 2000s saw the continued popularity of metal in Europe and South America, as well as the rise of new metal subgenres such as nu metal and blackened deathcore. Metal also gained a foothold in Asia during this decade, particularly in Japan, where bands such as Dir en Grey and Babymetal became international sensations. In the United States, meanwhile, metalcore bands likeKillswitch Engage and As I Lay Dying found success with a new generation of fans.

Heavy metal in the 2010s

The 2010s saw the continued rise of metalcore and deathcore, with bands such as Bring Me the Horizon, Asking Alexandria, Parkway Drive, Trivium, While She Sleeps, Upon a Burning Body and Suicide Silence achieving mainstream success. In 2015, Motionless in White scored their first number-one album with Reincarnate.

Death metal experienced a significant resurgence in popularity in the 2010s. With bands like Behemoth, Watain and Anaal Nathrakh receiving increased mainstream attention, as well as more traditional bands such as Obituary and Carcass achieving significant commercial success with their reunion albums Dark Infinity (Obituary album) and Surgical Steel respectively.

Folk metal also became popular in the 2010s, with several bands achieving mainstream success, such as Sabaton, Finntroll and Ensiferum. Power metal also enjoyed increased popularity in this decade, with bands like Dragonforce, Powerwolf and HammerFall achieving wider recognition.

Subgenres of heavy metal

Thrash metal

Thrash metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that emerged in the early 1980s. Thrash metal is characterized by its aggressive musical style and its use of fast tempos, blasting guitar riffs, and heavy bass lines. Thrash metal bands are often inspired by the music of earlier heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, and they often use similar musical elements. However, thrash metal is distinguished from other heavy metal subgenres by its more aggressive and energetic sound.

Some of the most popular thrash metal bands include Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer. These bands helped to popularize the genre in the 1980s and 1990s with their groundbreaking albums. Today, thrash metal remains an popular subgenre of heavy metal, with many new bands emerging in recent years.

Death metal

Death metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music. It typically employs heavily distorted and low-tuned guitars, played with techniques such as palm muting and tremolo picking, deep growling vocals, aggressive, powerful drumming featuring double kick and blast beat Techniques, minor keys or atonality, abrupt tempo, key, and time signature changes, and chromatic chord progressions. Its lyrical themes often deal with death, decay, co-existence with the natural world (or its destruction), psychiatry/mental asylums (mentally disturbed or insane), murder, disease, horror fiction/science fiction (count dracula/zombies/slasher films), apocalypse (the end of the world), religion (Satanism/Christianity), politics and warfare.

Thrash metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music characterized by its fast tempo and overall aggression. Thrash metal songs typically use fast percussive beats and low-register guitar riffs , overlaid with shredding-style lead guitar work. The drums often use the “double-bass” technique established by Joey Jordison of Slipknot where two bass drums are played simultaneously as opposed to conventional arrangements with only one bass drum

Black metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music often associated with paganism , misanthropy , Satanism , anti-Christianity , suicide , self-mutilation , Rex 2170 Divorce Court 7 tattoos , criminal activity such as murder arson rape theft vandalism neo-Nazism National Socialism racial holy war . Although usually considered “evil”, black metal has also been described as “misunderstood”.

Black metal

Black metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music that tends to be characterized by fast tempos, heavy riffing, and screamed or growled vocals. The earliest documented use of the term “black metal” was by British journalist Kerrang! in a May 1982 issue devoted to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). In that issue, Terry Butler of the band Venom described their new sound as being “blacker than black”.

The second wave of black metal emerged in Scandinavia in the early 1990s. Led by bands such as Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, and Immortal, the Norwegian scene rapidly became the most prominentWithin a few years, a number of Swedish bands (including Dissection, Sacramentum, and Necrophobic) had followed suit. Black metal withdrew from public view for several years thereafter. By the middle of the decade, however, a number of Norwegian bands had begun to enjoy some commercial success outside their native country (particularly in Germany), leading to a renewed interest in black metal both inside and outside Norway.

Today, black metal is enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity. While it remains largely an underground genre, a number of black metal bands (such as Watain and Behemoth) have managed to achieve a measure of mainstream success.

Doom metal

Doom metal is a genre of heavy metal music that emphasizes a slow, low-tuned guitar sound, create a sense of despair, dread, and impending doom. The genre is strongly influenced by the early work of Black Sabbath. Early doom metal was strongly influenced by the sounds of Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, and Pentagram.

During the first wave of British heavy metal in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a number of bands began to mix the sounds of Black Sabbath with influences from punk rock and psychedelic rock. These bands – which included Witchfynde, Pagan Altar, Saint Vitus, and Hellhammer – became known as the first wave of doom metal.

In the mid-1980s, a second wave of doom metal began to emerge. Bands such as Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus took inspiration from early doom metal bands as well as classical music and gothic rock music. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a number of death-doom bands – such as My Dying Bride and Anathema – emerged from the United Kingdom.

Today, there are many different subgenres of doom metal, including stoner Doom Metal (a subgenre that combines elements of Doom Metal with Stoner Rock), drone Doom Metal (a subgenre that emphasizes repetitive riffing), sludge Doom Metal (a subgenre that combines elements of Doom Metal with Sludge Metal), funeral Doom Metal (a subgenre that emphasizes slow tempos and dark atmosphere), atmospheric Doom Metal (a subgenre that emphasizes mood and texture over traditional song structure), post-metal (a subgenre that uses characteristics of Post-Rock to explore themes similar to those found in Post-Hardcore Punk and Sludge Metal), depressive Suicidal Black Doom Metal (a subgenre that combines elements of Depressive Suicidal BlackMetal with Doom Metal)…and many more.

Notable heavy metal bands

Led Zeppelin

Formed in 1968, Led Zeppelin originally consisted of guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham. The band was inspired by the hard-rocking blues of Cream and Jimi Hendrix, as well as the heavy, guitar-driven sounds of the yardbirds (which Page had been a member of), Jeff Beck Group (with which Jones had been associated), and Deep Purple (in which Bonham had played). With Page producing, Led Zeppelin recorded its debut album in just 30 hours. The album contained two songs that would become hard-rock standards and classics of radio airplay: “Dazed and Confused” and “Communication Breakdown.” Supported by a massive touring schedule that attracted tens of thousands of fans to outdoor stadiums and arenas, Led Zeppelin achieved immense success in the early 1970s. By 1973, the band’s fourth album--which contained the immortal rock anthem “Stairway to Heaven”--had become the biggest selling album in history.

Black Sabbath

Formed in Birmingham, England, in 1968 by Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass), and Bill Ward (drums), Black Sabbath are often cited as the first heavy metal band. With their dark,slow-paced, and often horrifically themed songs,derived in part from Osbourne’s love of horror movies, the group created a template for Heavy Metal that would be followed by virtually every subsequent band in the genre. Although Sabbath were far from being the first hard rock band-that distinction goes to groups such as Cream and Blue Cheer-they were undoubtedly the heaviest, and their influence was felt almost immediately.


Formed in 1981 by Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield, Metallica was one of the most successful heavy metal bands of the 1980s and 1990s. With a string of best-selling albums, including 1986’s Master of Puppets and 1991’s self-titled “black album,” the group helped to bring metal into the mainstream. The band’s music is characterized by fast tempos, complex guitar work, and aggressive lyrics; its songs often deal with subjects such as death, war, addiction, and betrayal. In recent years, Metallica has taken a more experimental direction, incorporating elements of other genres such as folk music and electronica into its sound.


Megadeth is one of the most important and influential heavy metal bands of all time. Formed in 1983 by guitarist/vocalist Dave Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson, the band has released thirteen studio albums, three live albums, five compilation albums, and thirty-seven singles. Megadeth is known for their complex songwriting, often dark and aggressive lyrics, and their virtuosic musicianship. The band has sold over 38 million albums worldwide and been nominated for nine Grammy Awards.


Slayer is an American heavy metal band from Huntington Park, California. The band was founded in 1981 by guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, and bassist and vocalist Tom Araya. Slayer’s fast and aggressive musical style made them one of the founding “big four” bands of thrash metal, alongside Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Slayer’s current lineup comprises King, Araya, drummer Paul Bostaph and guitarist Gary Holt. Hanneman and drummers Dave Lombardo and Jon Dette are former members of the band.

Slayer’s first two albums, Show No Mercy (1983) and Hell Awaits (1985), received critical acclaim. Following the release of South of Heaven (1988), Slayer evolved away from their thrash roots towards a more progressive sound with Reign in Blood (1986). Since 1996’s Undisputed Attitude—a covers album featuring punk rock songs written by lead singer/bassist Tom Araya—the band has not deviated far from their initial sound; however, God Hates Us All (2001) marked a return to form for the group after the relatively mellow Diabolus in Musica (1998).

Despite this stylistic change and mixed reviews from fans and critics, Slayer remained one of the most popular bands in the world; with global album sales estimated at over three million as of 2004. In 2009, “Eyes of the Insane” won Slayer their first Grammy Award in the “Best Metal Performance” category. They have also been nominated for five additional Grammys.

In late 2011, it was reported that Jeff Hanneman had contracted necrotizing fasciitis (most likely caused by a spider bite), which led to his eventual death on May 2, 2013.

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