The Origin of Heavy Metal (Part -1)

সংসপ্তক's picture
Submitted by shangshaptak on Sat, 01/08/2015 - 4:11pm

……. it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Illúvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets blaring upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn pattern.
- J.R.R. Tolkien (The Silmarillion)

How about that for a mythological origin of heavy metal music? In the real world the term “Metal” was first ascribed to music by the herald of the libertines, William S. Burroughs. In his seminal cut-up novel Nova Express, he quotes: “...Heavy Metal People of Uranus wrapped in cool blue mist of vaporized bank notes - And the Insect People of Minraud with metal music."

Heavy metal was probably born in the first few notes of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, when the genius sacrificed melody for rhythm’s sake. This school of thought is one of the major influences behind the evolution of heavy metal. This, along with many other factors, shaped the coarse sound of early electric blues into the extremely creative and honest form of music, known today as heavy metal.

Early Rock ‘N’ Roll: The ‘Clean’ Rock

Since its conception in the early 50’s, rock had essentially been nothing but a sickeningly wholesome background sound of puppy love. It had neither the emotional depth of the soul-blues scene, nor the musical craftsmanship of the jazz maestros. It was only something to move your body by, thoughtless, intuitive. The critics were merciless. They ousted rock and roll from the holy temple of music, rock fans were literally pariahs. But they missed two extremely important qualities of rock music: it was unpretentious, and it was packed with unbridled energy. Any youth of any generation could relate with that and thus rock became the music it has always been since: for the young, of the young and by the young.

The first high priest of rock ‘n’ roll is undoubtedly Bill Haley. History hasn’t been kind to him. Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly are revered like saints, their music respected by writers and scholars as well as the record-buying public, yet Bill Haley - who was there before any of them, playing rock & roll before it even had a name - is barely represented by more than a dozen of his early singles, and not even recognized by the average listener, often treated as an anomaly that came and went very quickly. The central event in Haley's career was the single Rock Around the Clock topping the charts for eight weeks in the spring and summer of 1955, an event that most music historians identify as the dawn of the rock & roll era.
Rock Around the Clock

For all their energy and greasy hair locks, these rock stars were out there only to have a good time, they had no intention of bringing about any social revolution. The pioneers, who would bring forth socio-political angst through their music, were still in their grammar schools. After Haley came the all-sweeping Elvis era, and everybody knows everything about that. He isn’t a personal favorite, so let us skip ahead to the first band that really showed us how a rock band can be as creative as the old masters of the classical era.

I am talking about The Beatles. Hold on! No need to hold up your moshpitting attitude and snort your nose! They surely have sung their share of sweet syrupy ballads and puppy love songs, but the true talents of The Beatles hide elsewhere. You want psychedelic crazy lyrics? Let’s see you top ‘I am the Walrus’ or ‘Glass Onion’. You want progressive? ‘Strawberry Fields’ should suffice. With ‘The White Album’ they had produced the heaviest sounding album of that era. You thought Marilyn Manson was disturbing? Well Marilyn took the latter half of his name from the serial killer Charles Manson, who, by the way, started his killing spree influenced by the track ‘Helter Skelter’ from ‘The White Album’.

They certainly were no cute gargling boy band. Other than being the premier proto-progressive rock band (topped only by Pink Floyd), The Beatles had also influenced a generation of musicians who would go on to establish the true form of heavy metal.
I am the Walrus

After The Beatles, came a band who would personalize the lunatic creativity of that age. They would put so much originality, so much psychedelia into their music; the face of rock music would be changed forever. Led by the moonstruck genius of Syd Barett (who was succeeded by the equally stunning duo Roger Waters and David Gilmour), Pink Floyd created something so unique, that even today it is impossible to assign them one genre, no matter how simply you interpret their music. Space rock, art rock, progressive rock, psychedelic rock - it doesn’t end. Only one thing is sure, throughout the history of rock music, no one has yet surpassed the amount of ingenuity, talent and imagination that is Pink Floyd.

The Revenge of the Left-outs: Proto-Metal

The Angry
As the rock ‘n’ roll music scene erupted across the world, its silly lyrical concepts alienated a certain group of youth. Their retaliation came with a type of music that focused angrily on dissident and alienated themes.

The first blasts of music which were nearly heavy metal in their aggressiveness were emitted by bands the likes of The Kinks, The Who. The Kinks’ You Really Got Me or The Who’s My Generation was controversial and abrasive enough for their time, making these two tracks the first proto-metal songs.
My Generation

A new type of music, which borrowed heavily from rock and roll and the blues, was gaining influence on the youth of those times, who were slowly getting tired of the stagnant ‘Summer of Love’ scene. The hippies had had their time in the sun. Vietnam was slowly ending, and with that, their protest rallies were growing shorter.

These early attempts came in three forms. One with a passion for deliberate coarseness, one leaning more towards a refined and artful sound and the last one bent on exploring and mastering various techniques of the musical instruments, especially the guitar.

The first group vented their anger with a blend of loud, distorted blues, which was pioneered by a chaotic band called Blue Cheer who made grating, droning, grinding blues rock with the aid of deformed amplifiers and deliberate ardor for crudity. These aesthetic would resurrect themselves in the grunge movement and help destroy the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) momentum. That’s a discussion for a later installment.

They were the vanguard of a range of electric blues bands from Cream to Jimi Hendrix to ZZ Top, and inspired much of the loud rock which followed. They were followed up by an array of bands like Vanilla Fudge, Grand Funk Railroad, MC5, Golden Earring, Atomic Rooster, Cactus, and The Jeff Beck Group.
Summertime Blues

Among these, the most historically important were Iron Butterfly and Steppenwolf because of their co-founding the term Heavy Metal in terms of music. Steppenwolf’s biker theme Born to be Wild included the lines “Heavy Metal Thunder”. Iron Butterfly named their first album “Heavy”. Iron butterfly’s seminal work, the 17 minute epic In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, featuring a menacing riff woven throughout the song establishes it as another signature proto-metal song.
In A Gadda Da Vida

The Wise
The second faction of musicians was the intelligentsia of this experimental music scene. Their progeny went on to create some of the most complex, beautiful and interesting music, clearly distinctive in their use of complex compositional structures, odd time signatures, and intricate and virtuosic instrumental playing - progressive rock. It eventually evolved into progressive metal.

The early form came from the psychedelic mind trips of The Beatles and the beautiful lunacies of Pink Floyd. In spite of their immense talent, the form they created lacked resemblance with a recognizable progressive rock format. The first progressive rock band whose sound we can still relate with the progressive bands of today was King Crimson.

If one group is responsible for putting the whole progressive rock/metal scenario in motion, it is King Crimson. Led by guitarist Robert Fripp, their pivotal first album, In The Court of The Crimson King, had sketched out a whole new way of musical experimentation for a generation of new musicians. New groups like Camel, ELP (Emerson, Lake and Palmer), Genesis, Yes, Rush took this genre to more exciting dimensions. Neil Pert of Rush redefined progressive drumming and took it to such technical levels that he has been recognized as the premier rock drummer by rock fans and critiques alike.
21st Century Schizoid Man

The Maestros
Finally, there was a cluster of bands who grew from the surf and garage rock traditions into a technique-oriented format, beginning with half-American Indian guitarist Link Wray, who, basically invented power chords. Surf guitar champion Dick Dale, whose breakneck speed of single-note staccato picking technique was unrivalled until it entered the repertoires of metal virtuosos like Eddie Van Halen.

By 1969, the influence of these artists had saturated the public consciousness, thus preparing them for the impact of three bands, who would embody the apex of hard rock and heavy metal: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple.


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waiting for next

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