Featuring amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, and a style of lyrics and performance that is often associated with aggression, heavy metal music has its official roots in the United Kingdom and the United States. The genre started late in the 1960s and into the 1970s, as bands moved from the more traditional sounds of blues rock and later, acid rock, to create a louder, more intense style.
A typical heavy metal band will consist of a drummer, lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, a bassist, and a singer. Some bands incorporate a keyboardist, to emphasize the thickness of the metal sound. Synthesizers are also used in almost every subgenre of heavy metal, but the main feature of this kind of sound is generated by the sonic power of a highly amplified guitar.
Guitar solos are a key part of the structure of a heavy metal song, although modern nu metal bands will frequently omit this element. The role of the lead singer is also vital, and often, this duality can result in a musical tension, with a show of dominance between these two leads.
The lyrics of heavy metal songs generally showcase machismo and aggression, but some critics have claimed that for metal bands, the emphasis is less on the singer’s words and more on the singer’s tone of voice. Heavy metal bands are usually trying to achieve an impressive loudness, and the right emotion from the singer can help the band meet that goal.
While modern heavy metal, showcased by bands like Pantera, Sepultura, Korn, and Slipknot, blends influences including grunge and hip hop, the genre began in 1968 with groups like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple. Initially, critics disparaged the efforts these bands were making to produce a new sound – but they began drawing massive audiences.
In the 1970s, heavy metal turned away from its blues influence, thanks to bands like Judas Priest and Motörhead, and developed a faster, punk-rock inspired sound. When British bands like Iron Maiden and Saxon started up in the late 1970s, fans of this music were labelled as “headbangers” or “metalheads.”
By the 1980s, glam metal was becoming more popular – with bands like Poison and Mötley Crüe leading the charge. Underground scenes were also developing, spurning new subgenres of heavy metal including thrash metal, death metal, and black metal. Metalheads were introduced to new bands – Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer – before the 1990s brought heavy metal into the modern age with nu metal and groove metal.