Music History

It takes a certain level of intellectual arrogance to attempt to summarize the evolution of an entire culture, especially one as widespread and diverse as Metal. Everyday someone somewhere inspires and is inspired by infinite conjoining or opposing currents, and the totality of these can be roughly defined as the subculture of metal. However, if left to their own devices, the industry will simply pick their biggest cash-cows and parade them as paragons (as they have for years); which is why it is important that someone attempts to tell the story from a different perspective.

Considering the multitude of branches (sub-genres) that have sprung out of metal, the attempt here is to tell a very brief tale of their development and the bands that were most influential and groundbreaking with each movement. The list here is for the neophyte, one who knows little, or maybe nothing much at all about metal but wants to find out more. Most seasoned veterans will see it as incomplete. Hessians are passionate about their culture and since I have yet to meet two people who enjoy all the same music to the same degree, a list like this is always cause for debate. What we can promise is that each album here has had an undeniable influence on the sound of its respective subgenre, and on the sounds of countless bands that followed.

Origins: Heavy Metal

Evolving out of rock and blues, but also largely influenced by classical music, progressive rock was arguably the last truly inventive movement in rock. Of this movement, King Crimson, who specifically introduced a revolutionary approach to writing rock songs with their unique romantic and surreal approach, and The Doors with their psychedelic/apocalyptic style were some of the great influences on many later metal musicians. Among other rock bands that influenced the development of metal aesthetics, Led Zepplin and Kiss are also worth mentioning.

– King Crimson: In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
– The Doors: The Doors (1967), Waiting for the Sun (1968)

Most, however, would agree that Black Sabbath is THE most important cornerstone in the formation of metal. Black Sabbath’s approach to music was unlike anything anybody had ever done before. During an era of the hippie and empty phrases like “love is all you need”, Sabbath took the listeners to a reality check; showing that life has plenty of darkness, and instead of childishly ignoring it, they truly embraced it in all its ugliness.

– Black Sabbath: Black Sabbath (1970), Paranoid (1970), Master of Reality (1971)

Throughout the 1970s Bands like Judas Priest helped inspire what was to be known as “The New Wave of British Heavy Metal”, with Iron Maiden eventually coming to fruition as the greatest example of that particular sound. NWOBHM inspired many of the greatest future bands. Priest and Maiden’s use of duelling lead guitars and (for the time) fast paced, almost punk-like rhythms is a direct link to bands like Slayer and Metallica, who use the same approach to this day.

– Judas Priest: Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
– Iron Maiden: Iron Maiden (1980), Killers (1981), Piece of Mind (1983)

The rougher side of metal at the time was Motorhead, who were known as one of the first bands that were respected in both Punk and Heavy Metal circles. Much of the relentless double-bass drumming techniques and vocal styles of the later Speed and even Death Metal bands were influenced by Motorhead.

– Motorhead: On Parole (1979), Overkill (1979), Ace of Spades (1980)

Other NWOBHM bands began to take a darker and more theatrical approach with their themes. Angel Witch and Mercyful Fate influenced not only speed metal but also first wave Black Metal bands such as Hellhammer/Celtic Frost. King Diamond (Mercyful Fate) took the vocal styles popularized by Priest and Maiden, and extended the approach to create a style known as “metal crooning”. His theatrical stage approach and use of makeup inspired the “corpse paint” look later adopted widely by Black Metal musicians. Venom was another band whose repeated use of occult imagery went on to become a staple in Black Metal, though technically speaking (and contrary to the band’s own claim) their music itself was not Black Metal.

– Angel Witch: Demo (1979), Angel Witch (1980)
– Mercyful Fate: Don’t Break the Oath (1984)

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that over the years Heavy Metal has spawned “Doom Metal”, a style heavily influenced by the early works of Black Sabbath themselves. The term “Doom” was adopted because of the down-tuned, slow and melancholic playing style and the often depressive and nihilistic lyrical themes.

– Candlemass: Doomicus Epicus Metallicus (1986)
– Cathedral: Forest of Equilibrium (1991)
– Witchfinder General: Death Penalty (1982)

Crossing Over: Thrash and Grindcore

As progressive rock became bloated and began to descend into cycles of endless wankery, other musicians began to go back to basics and play songs that were as simple and “to the point” as possible. While we might argue that this is not so much an invention as an aesthetic choice, it is undeniable that that Metal owes a lot to Hardcore Punk. Its harsh tone, fast power chorded riffs, and brash vocals inspired much of “extreme metal” and its minimal approach to composition helped move Metal away from the over-blown ego-driven stadium rock style that was the disease of the time. Some influential Hardcore Punk bands include Discharge, Exploited, The Misfits, Black Flag and Minor Threat.

-Discharge: Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing (1982)
-Minor Threat: Out of Step (1983)

Hardcore Punk, when infused with the genetic code of Metal, gave birth to “Thrash”. Thrash used Punk song structures (short, to the point) and fused them with metal riffs. Combined with this was punk’s ethics of commentating on everyday life with social analysis. DRI and Suicidal Tendencies are great examples of bands that took their hardcore roots and expanded on them, infusing new power into the genre and becoming increasingly influential to bands such as Slayer. Their own later works also evolved into something similar to Speed Metal by the end of the 80s.  Amebix on the other hand, transcended the genre by infusing hardcore punk with reflective melodies, thus inadvertently contributing to the genetic code of second wave Black Metal.

-DRI: Dirty Rotten LP (1983), Dealing With It (1985)
-Suicidal Tendencies: Suicidal Tendencies (1983)
-Amebix: Arise! (1985)

The next logical step from there was Grindcore. It took the already minimal Thrash and reduced it even more while picking up the pace even further. The result was an out of control grinding cycle done in a destructive fury. Songs were short (often under 1 minute) and included sections that were (purposefully) out of synch and completely chaotic. Napalm Death and Repulsion are the two bands given credit for the founding the genre. Carcass is another essential band, and is notable for taking a different approach lyrically, focusing on graphic gore-based themes to display the futility of materialism and embrace the reality of mortality.

-Napalm Death: Scum (1987), From Enslavement to Obliteration (1988)
-Repulsion: Horrified (1989)
-Carcass: Reek of Putrefaction (1988), Symphonies of Sickness (1989)

Fear and Fury: Speed Metal

Inspired in equal parts by older Heavy Metal, NWOBHM, Motorhead and Hardcore Punk, Speed Metal quickly became Metal’s response to the mediocre Glam Rock scene of the 1980s. The song writing was the most dynamic for its day, often including portions of extreme speed and fury mixed with more melodic and groove oriented sections (often expressed in the bridge section of the songs). Lyrics mostly included social commentary, paranoia and horror.

– Metallica: Kill ‘Em All (1983), Ride the Lightning (1984)
– Megadeth: Killing Is My Business… (1985), Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? (1986)
– Voivod: Killing Technology (1987)
– Nuclear Assault: Game Over (1986)

(Note: Speed Metal is also commonly called “Thrash Metal”. Sometimes “Thrash” is called “Crossover” to avoid confusion)

New Horizons: Proto-Death/Proto-Black Metal

By mid to late 1980′s metal was quickly evolving and branching out into different creative directions. On the one hand you had Speed Metal bands constantly pushing the boundaries of their music beyond anything that had been tried before, both aesthetically (playing faster and more furiously) and compositionally (more complex riffs and song structures). Bands like Slayer, Kreator and Sepultura are often credited for being some of the most influential bands with regards to the sound of Death Metal. Technically many of these works already qualify as early Death Metal, though it took the magazines a little while longer to recognize them as a new sub-genre.

– Slayer: Show No Mercy (1983), Hell Awaits (1985), Reign in Blood (1986)
– Sepultura: Morbid Visions (1986), Schizophrenia (1987), Beneath the Remains (1989)
– Kreator: Endless Pain (1985), Pleasure to Kill (1986)
– Sodom: Obsessed by Cruelty (1986), Persecution Mania (1987)
– Possessed: Seven Churches (1985)

On the other hand, there were a number of bands pushing the boundries in a different direction; following in the footsteps of Mercyful Fate and Angel Witch, they focused on using metal to create a dark and sinister atmosphere. Their music is often referred to as the First Wave of Black Metal. Bathory, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and Sarcofago are prime examples of this style. Bathory is largely credited with creating the Black Metal sound. In their later albums they went on to create a unique epic style, now recognized as “Viking Metal”. Celtic Frost emerged from the ashes of Hellhammer, making them almost inseparable when looking back. Hellhammer used the most minimal and primitive of playing styles to create an atmosphere of nihilistic evil. This primitive black metal style would be adopted by hundreds of imitators. Celtic Frost saw the former Hellhammer musicians mature and go into different forms of mystic darkness.

-Bathory: The Return (1985), Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987), Blood, Fire, Death (1988), Hammerheart (1990)
-Hellhammert: Apocalyptic Raids (1984)
-Celtic Frost: Morbid Tales (1984), To Mega Therion (1985)
-Sarcofago: INRI (1987)

Embracing the Morbid: Death Metal

The ultimate evolution of the most extreme Speed Metal bands led to a sound that we recognize as Death Metal. Mocking the ethics of modern times, this genre celebrates personal values, or lack thereof, above and beyond dualist morality. Death metal is very (romantically) anti-heroic and sometimes blatantly valueless while at the same time becoming inspirational in its brutality. Musically its complicated phrasing style works to create a story-telling (narrative) style, as if made to be a psychotic take on the opera format. Competent Death Metal musicians are able to use a variety of techniques and influences (from jazz and classical to folk or even funk) while simultaneously holding together their songs as coherent pieces. The genre is often viewed as having a few branches within itself. The American School of Death Metal tends to be more rhythmically dynamic and percussive.

– Morbid Angel: Altars of Madness (1989), Blessed Are the Sick (1991)
– Deicide: Deicide (1990), Legion (1992)
– Suffocation: Effigy of the Forgotten (1991), Pierced from Within (1995)
– Death: Scream Bloody Gore (1987), Spiritual Healing (1990)
– Immolation: Dawn of Possession (1991), Here in After (1996)
– Autopsy: Mental Funeral(1991)

The Swedish (and broadly speaking, European) School of death metal, on the other hand, is known to focus more on melodic development and themes associated with Romanticism.

– At the Gates: Gardens of Grief (1991), The Red in the Sky Is Ours (1992)
– Sentenced: Shadows of Past (1991), North from Here (1993)
– Dismember: Like an Everflowing Stream (1991)
– Therion: Beyond Sanctorum (1991)

Death Metal as a genre seems to have also been susceptible to experimentation and fusion with a variety of other musical styles. Atheist is perhaps the most successful example of the use of jazz elements in death metal, while Demilich uses unconventional groove elements to craft a uniquely gelatinous soundscape.

– Atheist: Piece of Time (1989), Unquestionable Presence (1991)
– Demilich: Nespithe (1993)

Blood and Ice: Black Metal

At around the same time that Death Metal was reaching its creative peaks and begining to acquire some commercial success, a very closely tied network of musicians in Norway, inspired by the early works of Bathory and Hellhammer created what is now referred to as the Second Wave of Black Metal. The music emphasized atmosphere and romanticism, evoking images of the Nordic landscapes and a longing for times long gone. We will leave it to you to read up on the events that followed the outbreak of this music; suffices to say here that the passion of these musicians for their ideas ran so deep that for the first time the war-like theatrics of metal spilled out of the stage and onto the real world.

– Mayhem: Deathcrush (1987), De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994)
– Burzum: Burzum (1992), Det Som Engang Var (1993), Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (1994)
– Darkthrone: A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1992), Under a Funeral Moon (1993), Transilvanian Hunger (1994)
– Immortal: Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism (1992), Pure Holocaust (1993), Battles in the North (1995)

The sound of black metal seems most conducive to ambient music due to its lucid and often droning aesthetics, while compositionally, it displays a strange mix of careful, methodical and minial approach as well as wildly romantic leanings. Unsurprisingly some bands like Burzum, Beherit and Ildjarn started making ambient music in their late careers, while others like Emperor and Summoning invented a method of orchestration within the sound, with summoning also taking notes from the ambient and electronic genres in their methods of layering and sampling. Graveland and Enslaved, on the other hand, took Bathory’s Viking Metal sound and adopted it to the sensibilities present in the Second Wave approach.

– Emperor: In the Nightside Eclipse (1994), Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (1997)
– Summoning: Minas Morgul (1995), Dol Guldur (1997), Oath Bound (2006)
– Ildjarn: Forest Poetry (1996), Hardangervidda (2002)
– Beherit: Drawing Down the Moon (1993), H418ov21.C (1994)
– Graveland: Carpathian Wolves (1994), Thousand Swords (1995)
– Enslaved: Vikingligr Veldi (1994)

Following the outbreak of black metal, the style was popularized and adopted by various musicians around the world. However, we at HessianZine are of the opinion that, certain exceptions aside, the Second Wave of Black Metal has been the last largely and truly inventive stride in the evolution of metal so far. It seems that a great majority of later efforts either attempt to conform to already established stereotypes of what “Extreme Metal” is supposed to be (retro), or simply repackage rock and heavy metal music dressed up with certain gimmicks to make them seem new (rap-metal, groove-metal, djent etc). Perhaps the most successful contemporary efforts have been from bands that blur the lines of sub-genre division, exploring the outer limits of metal while still staying somewhat rooted in the general framework that the genre has been building towards since its inception. This has taken form with either Black Metal bands containing certain Death Metal tendencies or the other way around.

– Averse Sefira: Tetragrammatical Astygmata (2005), Advent Parallax (2008)
– Blaspherian: Infernal Warriors of Death (2011)

It is hard to try to predict when (or if) the next great leap in the evolution of Metal will happen. Regardless, the principles expressed in the works of these foundational artists are eternal: strength and virility, independent thought and a sense of duty to express the truth no matter how ugly it is. The unbridled display of creative genius that is these classic albums stands there as a standard and a challenge for anyone who wishes to bear the flag of Hassiandom and carry it further, be it in the form of Metal music, or any other.