Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Heavy Metal Titans

For the past few months I've been contemplating, "What is it about some heavy metal that sucks?" (besides the fact that the word "heavy" is rarely used when referring to this genre). I think I've come up with the answer. I feel that lame-o heavy metal is not in any way closely derived from whom I shall now dub "The Three Heavy Metal Titans": Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. Nu Metal, Metalcore, Emo Metal, Mall Metal, and any faction thereof all fall too far from this tree to be any good.

Black SabbathBlack Sabbath is the band that started it all. Forget what anyone else may have told you - neither Led Zeppelin nor Aerosmith are heavy metal. Hard rock, yes; heavy metal, no. Why? One reason: they don't have the riffs. Sabbath's tight, sludgy riffage with a crunch is the standard from which all true heavy metal is based. The three guys (Iommi, Butler, Ward) writing and playing the music, plus Ozzy singing, do heavy metal better and more efficiently than everybody because they invented it. Listening to a Sabbath song is listening to the core elements that makes metal heavy. It began with their self-titled song off their (get ready) self-titled album, and continues to this day as they headline Ozzfest (again).

Judas PriestJudas Priest took it up a notch by adding speed to the mix. Most heavy metal these days prefers to play (at least) at the tempo that Priest pioneered. This is undoubtedly where the speed and thrash metal genres sprang forth from. Priest also worked harder on their guitar solos: Tipton's and Downing's dueling axes have become a staple of the genre. Last, but definitely not least, Priest put a strong emphasis on singing via the astounding vocal talents of Rob Halford. Many, including Halford himself, point to Judas Priest as the originators of heavy metal. I wouldn't doubt it if both Sabbath and Priest stumbled upon the basics of heavy metal independently (they both come from a blues background). But I still feel Sabbath are the first for one basic reason: they existed at least four years before Priest.

Iron MaidenFinally we come to Iron Maiden. They are one of the Heavy Metal Titans due to the musical complexity brought to the table. The riffs are still there, but the number of them increased, the difficulty of the song arrangements went up, and the strength of the musicianship skyrocketed (their intricate guitar harmonies alone are critical to modern heavy metal). Lyrical content changed as well. Were they content to offer sacrifices to Lucifer, wax poetic about sex, and extol the virtues of heavy metal? Nope, Maiden influenced legions that would follow by penning epics about historic battles, war heroes, and great works of literature. Add to that operatic singing by Bruce Dickinson (which influenced the Power Metal genre), and album covers graced with their mascot Eddie (every freakin' one), and you've got heavy metal personified.

If it isn't derived from the Three Heavy Metal Titans, it isn't heavy metal.


Anonymous AJB said...

Great works of literature? "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", maybe. But "Where Eagles Dare", by Alistair MacLean? Or "Dune", by Frank Herbert?

Good, yes, great, ehh. Not so much.

10:56 PM  

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