Journal Articles on the Origins of Heavy Metal Music

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A comprehensive list of academic journal articles on the origins and history of heavy metal music.


The origins of heavy metal music are often debated and there is no one clear answer. However, many experts believe that the genre originated in the late 1960s or early 1970s, when hard rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath began to experiment with down-tuned guitars and distorted sound. This new sound was heavier and more aggressive than anything that had come before, and it soon caught on with other bands and musicians.

There are a number of journal articles that discuss the origins of heavy metal music. Some of these articles focus on specific subgenres, such as thrash metal or black metal, while others provide a more general overview of the genre.

Here are a few journal articles on the origins of heavy metal music:

-estes, Jack S. “Heavy Metal Music: Origination and Social Context.” Journal of Pop Music Studies 2, no. 2 (1985): 33-47.
-Walser, Robert. “Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music.” Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993.
-Derr Aergeraert, Koenraad. “‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’: The Emergence of Black Metal.” Popular Musicology Online 1 (2006).
-Weinstein, Deena Ruth. “Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture.” New York: Da Capo Press, 2000.

A Brief History of Heavy Metal

Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Metal is characterized by its aggressive lyrics and loud, heavy sound. The first heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath and Deep Purple were influenced by blues music. They combined the blues with distorted guitar sounds and fast tempos to create a new sound that was both powerful and dark.

The Early Years: Hard Rock and Proto-Metal

The early years of heavy metal were marked by a number of events that would shape the genre’s future. One was the emergence of hard rock, a form of rock music that was heavier and more aggressive than the standard fare of the day. Hard rock bands such as Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience as well as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath took rock music in new directions, paving the way for heavy metal.

Another significant event was the release of The Beatles’ album Abbey Road in 1969. Abbey Road contained the song “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” which was eight minutes long and featured distorted guitars, feedback, and other elements that would become hallmarks of heavy metal. This song is often cited as an influence on early heavy metal bands.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of bands began to emerging that would come to be known as proto-metal bands. These bands began to experiment with longer song lengths, denser soundscapes, and heavier guitars. Bands like Blue Cheer, Uriah Heep, and Captain Beyond were innovators in this respect, and their music would lay the foundation for heavy metal.

The Birth of Metal: Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the birth of heavy metal, a hard-rocking, often dark and aggressive style of music that would come to dominate the rock landscape for the next four decades. While there are earlier examples of heavy metal (including the work of Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and Steppenwolf), the genre truly came into its own with the rise of British bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin.

These bands took the basic template of hard rock – loud guitars, powerful drums, and driving rhythms – and added a new level of heaviness and darkness. This was partly due to the influence of occult figures like Aleister Crowley and movies like The Devils, but it was also a response to the political and social turmoil of the times. As Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover later said, “People were living in pretty bleak times… maybe we were reflecting that in our music.”

The result was a sound that was both foreboding and exhilarating, offering listeners an escape from their everyday lives into a world of fantasy and possibility. It was this mix of escapism and down-to-earth heaviness that would prove so appealing to audiences around the world, propelling heavy metal to the top of the charts in the 1980s and beyond.

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal

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

The NWOBHM is considered to be responsible for revitalizing heavy metal music and inspiring a new generation of metal bands. It spawned many highly successful bands, such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Def Leppard, and Saxon.

The NWOBHM began as a grassroots movement, with small independent record labels releasing records by unsigned bands. These bands gained popularity by playing live shows in small clubs and pubs. They also gained exposure through fanzines and word-of-mouth.

As the movement gained momentum, some of these bands were signed by major record labels and achieved commercial success. The most successful band of the NWOBHM was Iron Maiden, who released their debut album in 1980. The album was a commercial and critical success, spawning several hit singles and helping to popularize the NWOBHM sound.

Despite the success of some bands, the NWOBHM failed to achieve lasting mainstream success. By the mid-1980s, most of the original NWOBHM bands had either disbanded or evolved into other styles of heavy metal music. Nevertheless, the impact of the NWOBHM can still be felt today, as many modern metal bands have been influenced by its sound and style.

The Americanization of Heavy Metal

While the Britishget most of the credit for giving birth to heavy metal, the genre actually owes a lot to American musicians – especially those on the West Coast. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number ofbands – includingLed Zeppelin,Deep Purple,Black Sabbath,andUriah Heep– rose to prominence playing a brand of hard rock that would come to be known as “heavy metal.” These bands combined the hard-edged blues-rock sound of British bands like Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience with the more aggressive sound of American garage-rock and psychedelia.

One of the earliest examples of this hybrid sound can be found in Led Zeppelin’s 1968 debut album, which includes the song “Dazed and Confused.” The song features a heavy guitar riff that is reminiscent of Cream’s “Crossroads” (1968) and a lyrical style that would become typical of metal songs. Another early example is Deep Purple’s “ Highway Star ” (1972), which combines elements of garage rock and psychedelia with hard-edged blues-rock.

The Americanization of heavy metal continued in the early 1970s with the formation of two key bands: Van Halen and Aerosmith. Van Halen, which was formed in Pasadena, California in 1972, combined elements of British hard rock and American garage rock to create a unique sound that was both heavier and more energetic than anything that had come before. Aerosmith, meanwhile, was formed in Boston in 1970 and combined elements of blues-rock, hard rock, and psychedelic rock. Both bands would go on to play an important role in shaping the sound of heavy metal in the years to come.

The Themes and Styles of Heavy Metal

Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that typically features aggressive, driving rhythms, distorted guitars, and powerful vocal styles. Metal songs often deal with dark or controversial subjects, such as death, war, and other aspects of the human experience. The origins of heavy metal can be traced back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when bands such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin began pushing the boundaries of rock music.


Heavy metal songs often deal with dark and sometimes controversial subjects, such as death, war, and personal struggles. The lyrics often center on anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian, and rebellious themes.

Many heavy metal songs also explore themes of loss, betrayal, isolation, and despair. In some cases, the music is used as a form of escapism from the everyday world and its problems.

The lyrics and musical style of heavy metal can be very aggressive and intense. The music often features distorted guitars, powerful drumming, and screaming vocals. Heavy metal songs are often long and complex, with multiple sections that build up to a powerful climax.

Themes in heavy metal music often reflect the real-world problems that its fans face. The music can be a way for fans to express their anger and frustration with society. It can also be a way to escape from the everyday problems of life.


There are many different styles of heavy metal, each with its own unique history, influences, and aesthetic. Below is a list of some of the most popular and enduring styles of heavy metal, along with a brief description of each.

Thrash metal: A style of metal that emerged in the early 1980s, characterized by fast tempos, aggressive guitar work, and often politically-charged lyrics. Notable thrash metal bands include Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer.

Death metal: A style of metal that emerged in the mid-1980s, characterized by guttural vocals, heavily distorted guitars, and often dark or violent lyrics. Notable death metal bands include Death, Obituary, and Morbid Angel.

Doom metal: A style of metal that emerged in the early 1980s, characterized by slower tempos, dark atmospheres, and often depressing or melancholic lyrics. Notable doom metal bands include Candlemass, Saint Vitus, and Cathedral.

Black metal: A style of metal that emerged in the early 1990s, characterized by fast tempos, high-pitched vocals, heavily distorted guitars, and often satanic or anti-Christian lyrics. Notable black metal bands include Mayhem, Burzum, and Emperor.

The Influence of Heavy Metal

On Other Genres of Music

While it is impossible to pinpoint the exact origins of heavy metal music, there are a number of theories about what may have influenced its development. One common theory is that heavy metal is a derivative of other genres of music, such as blues or rock. Another theory suggests that heavy metal may have been influenced by classical music or even folk music.

Whatever its origins, there is no doubt that heavy metal has had a significant influence on other genres of music. In particular, many punk and alternative rock bands have cited heavy metal as an influence. This can be seen in the music of bands such as the Clash, who incorporated elements of metal into their punk sound. Similarly, Nirvana’s album “Nevermind” featured a number of elements that were influenced by metal, including distorted guitars and aggressive vocals.

It has been argued that heavy metal music has had a profound and lasting effect on popular culture, especially in the realm of fashion. Many metal fans dress in a style that is distinctly different from the mainstream, and this can be traced back to the early days of the genre when bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were first starting out. Today, there are still many metal fans who dress in a similar fashion, and it is not uncommon to see people wearing black leather jackets, dark jeans, and band shirts at metal concerts. This unique style is one of the things that sets metal fans apart from other music fans, and it is one of the things that makes the genre so distinctive.


While there is no one answer to the question of where heavy metal music came from, it is clear that it has roots in a number of different genres and traditions. From blues and rock to classical and even folk music, there are a variety of influences that can be heard in the sound of heavy metal. In the end, though, it is up to each individual band or artist to create their own unique sound, and it is this diversity that has made heavy metal one of the most popular and enduring genres of music in the world today.

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