The History of Heavy Metal Music

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A look at the history of heavy metal music, from its beginnings in the 1960s to its present day popularity.

Origins of Heavy Metal

Most music historians trace the origins of heavy metal back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when a number of bands such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Rainbow were experimenting with distorted guitars, extended instrumentation, and louder sound.

Hard Rock and Psychedelic Rock

The origins of heavy metal can be traced back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when a number of bands began pushing the limits of rock music with loud, overdriven guitars and extended solos. These bands were inspired by earlier groups such as the Rolling Stones, the Who, andLed Zeppelin, as well as by contemporary psychedelic rock bands such as Jimi Hendrix and Cream.

One of the first truly heavy metal bands was Black Sabbath, whose dark, atmospheric sound and demonic imagery laid the foundation for much of what would come later. Sabbath was followed by a wave of British bands such as Deep Purple, Judas Priest, and Motorhead, who helped to further develop the heavy metal sound. In the early 1980s, American bands such as Metallica and Megadeth took things to a new level with their highly technical, speed-oriented style of metal.

Today, heavy metal is one of the most popular genres of music in the world, with fans all over the globe. There are hundreds of different metal subgenres, ranging from lighthearted pop-metal to brutal death metal. No matter what your taste in metal might be, there’s sure to be a band out there that you’ll love.

British Blues Boom

In the early 1960s, a new style of music known as “blues rock” was created by mixing the traditional electric blues with the new rock and roll sound. This new style of music quickly gained popularity in Britain, and soon many British bands were performing their own versions of blues rock. These bands would go on to have a major influence on the development of heavy metal.

One of the most important British blues rock bands was Cream, which featured guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce, and drummer Ginger Baker. Cream’s 1966 debut album, Fresh Cream, is considered to be one of the first heavy metal albums. Another important early heavy metal band was Led Zeppelin, which formed in 1968 and released its debut album, Led Zeppelin, in early 1969.

Other British blues rock bands that were important in the development of heavy metal include The Yardbirds, The Jeff Beck Group, and Free. These bands combined the hard-rocking sound of British blues rock with elements of Psychedelia and other styles to create a unique sound that would soon be imitated by many other bands around the world.

Early Heavy Metal Bands

Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Originally known as hard rock or blues rock, the early heavy metal bands developed a thick, heavy sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion and extended guitar solos.

Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin was an English rock band formed in London in 1968. The group consisted of guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant, bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham. With their heavy, guitar-driven sound, they are regularly cited as one of the progenitors of heavy metal music.

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath is often cited as the first heavy metal band. With songs like “Iron Man” and “Paranoid,” they defined the genre with their dark, driving sound and lyrics about dark subjects like war, mental illness, and evil. Sabbath’s influence can be heard in later heavy metal bands like Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth.

Deep Purple

Deep Purple is an English rock band formed in Hertford, Hertfordshire in 1968. The band is considered to be among the pioneers of heavy metal and modern hard rock, although their musical approach changed over the years. Originally formed as a psychedelic rock and progressive rock band, they shifted to a heavier sound in 1970.

Deep Purple, together with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, have been referred to as the “unholy trinity of British hard rock and heavy metal” in the early 1970s. They were listed in the 1975 Guinness Book of World Records as “the globe’s loudest band” for a 1972 concert at London’s Rainbow Theatre, and have sold over 100 million copies of their albums worldwide.

The band has experienced numerous line-up changes and an eight-year breakup (1976–84). The 1968–76 line-ups are commonly labelled Mark I, II, III and IV. Their second and most commercially successful lineup featured Ian Gillan (vocals), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass), Ian Paice (drums), and Ritchie Blackmore (guitar). This lineup was active between 1969 and 1973, and was revived from 1984 to 1989. The band achieved more mainstream success with its eighth studio album Perfect Strangers(1984).

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 state of heavy metal music in the UK at the time. Bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Def Leppard brought heavy metal back to the mainstream with their highly successful albums.

Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden is one of the most influential and successful heavy metal bands of all time, selling over 100 million albums worldwide. They were one of the pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and their sound has heavily influenced generations of metal bands.

Iron Maiden was formed in 1975 by bassist Steve Harris, who remains the only constant member of the band throughout their nearly 50-year career. The band has undergone numerous lineup changes, but Harris has always been the central creative force behind Iron Maiden, writing the majority of their songs and producing their albums.

Iron Maiden’s debut album, “Iron Maiden”, was released in 1980 and was an immediate success,peaking at Number 4 on the UK charts. The album’s mix of galloping rhythms, twin guitar harmonies, and soaring vocal melodies proved to be highly influential on subsequent metal bands. Maiden followed up their debut with the equally successful “Killers” album in 1981.

By 1982, Iron Maiden had become one of the biggest metal bands in the world, with their fourth album, “The Number of the Beast”, topping the UK charts. The album featured new vocalist Bruce Dickinson, who brought a powerful operatic style to Maiden’s already bombastic sound. Dickinson would go on to become one of heavy metal’s most iconic singers, and he remains with the band to this day.

Over the next few years, Iron Maiden would release a series of hugely successful albums that cemented their status as one of heavy metal’s elites: “Piece of Mind” (1983), “Powerslave” (1984), “Somewhere in Time” (1986), and “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” (1988). These albums saw Maiden experimenting with longer song structures and more complex arrangements, while still delivering catchy hooks and relentlessly aggressive rhythms.

In 1992, Dickinson left Iron Maiden to pursue a solo career, but he returned to the band in 1999. Since then, Iron Maiden have continued to tour and release new music regularly, including such acclaimed albums as “Dance of Death” (2003) and “The Final Frontier” (2010). They remain one of heavy metal’s most popular and enduring bands, touring relentlessly to sold-out crowds around the world.

Judas Priest

One of the most influential and enduring bands in the history of heavy metal, Judas Priest helped define the sound and style of the genre in the 1970s and 1980s. Formed in Birmingham, England, in 1969 by guitarist K.K. Downing and bassist Ian Hill, Priest’s early years were spent honing their craft in local clubs and releasing a series of singles. Their 1974 debut album, “Rocka Rolla,” was met with little fanfare, but it laid the foundation for what was to come.

With the addition of singer Rob Halford in 1976, Judas Priest released the game-changing “Sad Wings of Destiny” album, which showcased their signature twin-guitar attack and Halford’s powerful vocal range. The band followed up with a string of successful albums including “Sin After Sin” (1977), “Stained Class” (1978), “Hell Bent for Leather” (1979), “Unleashed in the East” (1979), “British Steel” (1980) and “Point of Entry” (1981). These albums cemented Priest’s reputation as one of the premier heavy metal bands of their generation and paved the way for their next breakthrough album, 1982’s “Screaming for Vengeance.”

With its crashing guitars and soaring vocals, “Screaming for Vengeance” was a commercial and critical success, spawning the hits “You Got Another Thing Comin’” and “Electric Eye.” The follow-up album, 1984’s “Defenders of the Faith,” was another smash hit that cemented Priest’s reputation as one of heavy metal’s all-time greats. The band has continued to record and tour over the years, with Halford returning to the fold in 2003 after a stint in another band. They remain one of metal’s most popular and enduring bands, with a sound that continues to influence generations of metalheads around the world.


Led by the larger-than-life figure of frontman Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, Motorhead were one of the most important bands to emerge from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. With their aggressive, no-holds-barred approach to rock & roll, they inspired a generation of metalheads with their pioneering spirit and DIY attitude.

Formed in 1975, Motorhead quickly established themselves as one of the most exciting live bands in the country, thanks in part to Lemmy’s unique vocal style and unshakeable charisma. They soon began to attract a loyal following among the nascent metal community, and their self-titled debut album was released to critical acclaim in 1977.

With its breakneck pace and raw energy, Motorhead’s music was the perfect antidote to the bland pop music that dominated the charts in the late 1970s. The band’s popularity continued to grow with each subsequent release, culminating in the release of their classic album Ace of Spades in 1980.

Ace of Spades cemented Motorhead’s reputation as one of the most exciting rock bands on the planet, and they remain an influence on metal bands to this day.

The American Heavy Metal Scene


American heavy metal band Metallica has been one of the most commercially successful bands in the history of heavy metal music, having sold more than 110 million albums worldwide. The band was founded in 1981 in Los Angeles, California by Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield. With their 1982 debut album “Kill ‘Em All”, Metallica established themselves as one of the leaders of the American thrash metal scene. Over the next several years, the band released a series of critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums, including “Master of Puppets” (1986), “And Justice for All” (1988), and “Metallica” (1991). In 1991, Metallica released their self-titled fifth album, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart and has since been certified 16x platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Since the release of “Metallica”, the band has continued to enjoy commercial success with their subsequent albums “Load” (1996), “ReLoad” (1997), “St. Anger” (2003), “Death Magnetic” (2008), and “Hardwired… to Self-Destruct” (2016). In addition to their commercial success, Metallica has also been praised by critics for their musical innovation and technical ability. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, and they were included on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.


Formed in Los Angeles in 1983 by guitarist/singer Dave Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson, Megadeth went on to become one of the most successful and influential heavy metal bands of all time. With a string of Grammy nominations and MTV Video Music Awards, the band has sold over 38 million albums worldwide and inspired countless other artists.

Mustaine was originally a member of Metallica, but was fired from the band in 1983. He then went on to form Megadeth with Ellefson. The band’s debut album, Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good!, was released in 1985 to critical acclaim. It was followed by a succession of successful albums, including Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? (1986), So Far, So Good… So What! (1988), Rust in Peace (1990), Countdown to Extinction (1992), Youthanasia (1994) and Cryptic Writings (1997).

Megadeth’s most recent album, Dystopia, was released in 2016 and was hailed as a return to form by fans and critics alike. The band is currently touring extensively in support of the album.


Slayer is an American metal band from Huntington Park, California. The band was founded in 1981 by guitarist Kerry King and drummer Dave Lombardo. Slayer rose to fame with their 1986 album Reign in Blood, and is credited as one of the “Big Four” thrash metal bands, along with Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Since its debut album in 1983, the band has released twelve studio albums, two live albums, a box set, six video albums, and 37 singles. The band has received five Grammy Awards, six gold certificates, and one platinum certificate. Slayer has also played at several music festivals worldwide, including Unholy Alliance Tour (2006), Ozzfest (2007), Soundwave Festival (2008), Mayhem Festival (2010), Download Festival (2013), and Knotfest (2014).

The Rise of Death Metal and Black Metal

The history of heavy metal music can be traced back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. bands like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple were experimenting with new sounds and heavier rhythms. This new sound quickly caught on with other bands and the genre quickly evolved. In the 1980s, a new subgenre known as death metal emerged. Death metal is characterized by its fast tempo, intense guitar work, and growling vocals. Black metal is another subgenre that arose in the 1980s. Black metal is similar to death metal but with a more evil sound.


Death metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that emerged in the 1980s. It is characterized by guttural vocals, distorted guitars, blast beat drumming, and dark, nihilistic lyrics. Death metal’s lyrical themes include death, violence, war, and the occult.

The genre’s origins can be traced to bands such as Venom, whose second album Black Metal (1982) is often cited as one of the first death metal albums. Death metal enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the late 1980s with bands such as Morbid Angel, Obituary, and Deicide. However, it was not until the early 1990s that death metal experienced a resurgence in popularity with bands such as Cannibal Corpse and Entombed leading the charge.

In the years since its inception, death metal has spawned numerous subgenres including blackened death metal, grindcore, and brutal death metal. Today, death metal remains one of the most popular genres of heavy metal music.

Morbid Angel

Morbid Angel is an American death metal band formed in 1984 in Tampa, Florida. The band’s first two albums — Altars of Madness and Blessed are the Sick — are considered important favorites within the genre. After a brief stint with drummer Pete Sandoval, the band solidified its lineup with the addition of former Deceased drummer David Vincent. Vincent’s gothic sensibilities and lyrical focus on topics such as horror, disease, and blasphemy helped to set Morbid Angel apart from its death metal peers.Hailed as one of the most influential bands in death metal, Morbid Angel is credited with helping to pioneer the “Florida death metal” sound. The band has gone through several lineup changes over the years, but has remained active since its formation.

Cannibal Corpse

Cannibal Corpse is an American death metal band formed in 1988 in Buffalo, New York. The band has released fourteen studio albums, two box sets, four video albums, and an album of cover songs. Their debut album, Eaten Back to Life (1990), became the earliest commercially released death metal album in the U.S. to achieve widespread public awareness. Although not the first death metal band, Cannibal Corpse was arguably the most influential act of the early 1990s Death Metal explosion. Death metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is generally defined by its aggressive music style and somber tone.

Cannibal Corpse’s music features a large amount of gore-themed lyrics and violent visual imagery. The band’s guitarist, Pat O’Brien, is credited with coining the term “death metal” in reference to Cannibal Corpse’s style of music. Their songs have been featured in several films and television shows including Beavis and Butt-HeadDo America (1996), Ace Ventura: PET Detective (1994), Baseketball (1998),[5] family Guy (1999),[6] and Superjail! (2007).[7] Six members of Cannibal Corpse have been awarded Grammys for Best Metal Performance: George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher (vocalist) in 1996 and again in 1997; Paul Mazurkiewicz (drummer) in 1998; Jack Owen (guitarist) and Rob Barrett (guitarist) in 2000; Alex Webster (bassist) in 2009; and Pat O’Brien (guitarist) in 2010.

The Modern Heavy Metal Scene

Lamb of God

Lamb of God is an American heavy metal band from Richmond, Virginia. Formed in 1994, the group consists of vocalist Randy Blythe, guitarists Mark Morton and Willie Adler, bassist John Campbell, and drummer Chris Adler. The band is considered a notable member of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal movement. Since their formation, Lamb of God has released eight studio albums. The band’s latest album, VII: Sturm und Drang, peaked at number three on the Billboard 200 in 2015, making it their highest charting position to date.

Avenged Sevenfold

Avenged Sevenfold is an American heavy metal band from Huntington Beach, California, formed in 1999. The band’s stage names contain the number seven, which is significant to the band. bassist Johnny Christ said that when forming the band, the members searched for a name that would represent their influences and style. “We came across Avenged Sevenfold, it was like this is perfect. It had kind of a dark sound to it and kind of an aggressive feel.” Guitarist Zacky Vengeance added, “When we were looking for a band name I saw that and immediately thought of Marvel comics. I was a huge comic book geek growing up—I still am.” The number itself is derived from the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible’s Book of Genesis. In an interview with in July 2005, vocalist M. Shadows explained:

“The basic story is: two brothers made sacrifices to God—one was bolsheviks Stalinism good and one was America bad. One was accepted and one wasn’t. For us, it’s like everything bad happening to us — everything that could go wrong has gone wrong … but we always come out on top in the end.”


Trivium is an American heavy metal band from Orlando, Florida, formed in 1999. After signing with Roadrunner Records in 2004, the band has released eight studio albums: Ember to Inferno (2003), Ascendancy (2005), Shogun (2008), In Waves (2011), Vengeance Falls (2013), Silence in the Snow (2015), The Sin and the Sentence (2017) and What the Dead Men Say (2020). Their eighth album, Spit Out the Bone, was released as a single in 2017 and received a Grammy Award nomination for “Best Metal Performance”.

The band’s early material was released under the name Trivium, but before the release of their debut album Ember to Inferno, they changed their name to Trivium Creed due to another band already using that name. The members at that time were Matt Heafy on vocals and guitar; Brad Lewter on bass; Travis Smith on drums; and Brent Young on rhythm guitar. Lewter was subsequently replaced by current bassist Paolo Gregoletto.

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