Music Consumption in the MP3 Era
Music Consumption in the MP3 Era

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Sunday Morning Playlist: Heavy Metal

Led Zeppelin [Concert poster] (1969)   Black sabbath [Concert Poster] (1972)

Heavy Metal needs no introduction. Everybody knows what it is; the most aggressive form of rock music (in competition with its erstwhile greatest enemy, punk), the loudest, the druggiest, the most doom laden, the most cartoonish, the most sinister, the favorite music of tortured teens the world over, the music people are most likely to "outgrow".

Its drawing points are simple and obvious; beyond the sheer central nervous system stimulation of the bone crushing riffs, heavy metal's lyrics are pure escapism -into a world of fantasy or a world of satanism and death-, its image is staunchly in-your-face-mom variety teen rebellion (and twenty-something angst), it is generally pro-sex (although some bands never even went near sex), pro-dope, anti-religion, death-obsessed, anti-authoritarian, vaguely fascist, aggressively anti-war (in many cases) and all manner of other "taboo" subjects.

At its most heroic, heavy metal is indeed legitimate art and legitimate thrills. Led Zeppelin still tower over all who approach for their intensely musicianly approach to pure wallop; bass-drum heavy skin pounding, spine-tinglingly powerful guitar riffing that plundered the blues shamelessly, a definitively capable frontman, whose voice could win over males and females with its range, soars, galvanizations, pomp, and even sensitivity. Lyrics that bore no relation to the world at large; a Led Zeppelin album was just as much an escape into fantasy land as Pink Floyd or Yes; bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Pantera still serve this same essential function of escape, no matter how they older metalheads might not dig the newer bands. After all, heavy metal never was made for old people; it was for the young.

Uriah Heep [Promotional Poster] (1970)   Deep Purple [Concert Poster] (1973)

At its crassest, heavy metal is the sum of all the ridicule and scorn that has been heaped upon it for decades, famously spoofed in the film This Is Spinal Tap. It can be musically ignorant, gratuitiously dumb in its lyrics, stupid and irresponsible in its worldview, noisy and irritating, and appallingly hypocritical as it laughs all the way to the bank.

Born in 1969, its history is colorful, with all sorts of characters and tales of on-the-road debauchery and decadence. It is a history rife with drug abuse and early death, gold records and limousines, ridiculous pomposity and moments of menacing inspiration. It is the genre that has retained its popularity the longest; aside from a brief lull in the late 70's-early 80's (and a slight one currently) it has never managed to lose its popularity with the teen market.

Heavy metal's genesis is truly organic; it is its honest beginnings that make it a music worthy of respect. Simply stated, heavy metal is massively amplified blues-rock and psychedelic acid-rock with an emphasis on what was called the power chord.

Tracing the history of the power chord backwards from a first-generation heavy metal band like Black Sabbath, one turns to the power trios of 1965-1968; Blue Cheer, Cream, The Who. The Yardbirds' blend of blues, psychedelic, and guitar pyrotechnics deserves special mention. Taking the power chord back further, the 1964 riff-driven "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks was a landmark. One can trace it back even further to the late 50's; Link Wray is most likely its inventor. A favorite among juvenile delinquents, Wray's 1958 hit "Rumble" is an instrumental based all around an elementary, loudly amplified riff.

iron Maiden [Poster] (1982)   Metallica [Poster]

Tracing the blues rock influence from Black Sabbath on backwards, one again turns to Blue Cheer and Cream; before them, John Mayall and Alexis Korner's bands helped define blues-rock in England while Paul Butterfield Blues Band were probably the biggest American blues-rock band. They generally got the blues from the source, which was usually 50's Chicago Blues or 30's Delta Blues.

On the acid-rock side, post-Cream west coast bands like Iron Butterfly, Blue Cheer, Steppenwolf, and Black Pearl and east coasters like Vanilla Fudge can be considered on the cusp of heavy metal; favoring power chords and bluesy progressions, and amplification most of all, these bands form a basic template. Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, which had evolved from the Yardbirds, represented the original frontman prototype of fantasy-based metal, while Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath was the doom-band frontman prototype.

One other key element of heavy metal was the prominence given to the bass guitar; bass-and-guitar interplay was integral to the sound; on some recordings the bass was the lead instrument, new to rock music.

The first wave of English heavy metal bands (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple) tended to lean towards the blues end of acid-rock and Cream; some (Heep, Purple, some Zep) featured organ augmenting a power trio plus frontman, others eschewed it completely.

Pantera [Poster] (1994)   Slayer [Promotional Poster] (1986)

In America, heavy metal tended to evoke the boogie element of acid rock more than the blues element; it tended to be faster in tempo and working-class in its presentation. While the British bands went for spectacle, the American bands tended to keep a lower profile. Among the first wave of sweaty boogie-flavored American heavy metal bands were Grand Funk Railroad and Cactus. American's weren't without spectacle completely however; Alice Cooper (originally a band name before coming to mean just the lead singer) featured a shock-and-horror stage show, complete with blood and beheadings. In the 90's, Marilyn Manson's stage act borrowed much from Alice Cooper.

All of these bands, including Led Zeppelin, were greeted with almost unanimously bad reviews from the rock critic "establishment" (serious rock criticism had only existed for about 3 years at this point); favored were the crop of singer/songwriters who were appearing simultanously, and whose literate lyrics appealed to critical egghead tendencies. Despite this, the kids and incipient college hipsters saw what was obvious; these bands were huge fun. It would take a generation before heavy metal gained any serious critical respect, aside from some heroic efforts by Lester Bangs of Creem in the early 70's.

By 1972, heavy metal was the biggest thing in the musical universe; Led Zeppelin IV, Black Sabbath Vol. 4, Machine Head, Demons And Wizards, School's Out, We're An American Band were all titanic sellers. Newer American and British bands joined the heavy metal ranks in the early-mid 70's, including the grandiose Queen, the loud Black Oak Arkansas, the heavy Budgie, the cartoony Kiss, the sinister Blue Oyster Cult, the arena rock of Aerosmith and Van Halen.

The punk revolt and new wave movement of the late 70's spelled what many assumed would be the end of metal in the late 70's. The punks set metal, and its distant cousin progressive rock, squarely in their sights; both were examples of how overblown, irrelevant, pompous, and bloated rock had become. By the late 70's heavy metal's chart dominance was over in America; all of the heavy metal bands, including Zeppelin, saw erosions in sales. In many cases sales seemingly dried up overnight; most of the first wave of metal groups broke up, or underwent dramatic lineup changes.

Van halen [Promotional Poster] (1984)   Ozzy Osbourne [Promotional Poster] (1981)

In England, the situation was somewhat rosier; metal never really vanished from the charts as it did in America. A vital second wave appeared in England that played a faster and tougher metal; taking dark satanic or necrophilic imagry from Black Sabbath, or playing up boogie metal's bikers-and-leather image. Motorhead, formed by bassist Lemmy of British acid-rock heroes Hawkwind were the quintessential British Metal biker band of the late 70's; Judas Priest was another. Iron Maiden played up the satanic/death iconography.

Ozzy Osbourne's renaissance as a solo act in 1981 spelled the return of metal as a major commercial force in America. Osbourne's resurgence owes tremendous debt to his guitarist Randy Rhodes (ex-Quiet Riot), who played in the speed-metal style of the new wave British Metal groups, although Ozzy's own pedigree helped win over the slower metal fans.

These developments led to speed metal, the predominant 1980's form of heavy metal. Quite removed from the lumbering monoliths of the early 70's, speed metal was all about fast, and was consciously non-radio-friendly. This gave it an underground appeal that resulted in robust sales; chief architects among the 80's speed metal bands were Metallica and Megadeth.

Megadeth [Concert Poster]

The 1980's also saw the fragmentation of the metal market into a wide variety of subgenres and niches. In most cases, only a metal devotee would know the distinctions; a non-metal-head would file all under "noise". However, the distinctions are important to the metalhead; death metal, thrash, progressive metal, hair metal and others in the 1980's; doom-metal, stoner metal, sludge metal, Scandinavian metal, and rap metal in the 1990's.

A key occurance in the heavy metal timeline was the emergence of grunge in the early 1990's. Grunge was a crucial development because it bridged the always-unbridgeable gulf between metal and punk. Metal bands took punk's DIY ethic, and rawness of performance, and applied it to their power riffs, often slowing the music back down to Black Sabbath tempo. Alice In Chains and Soundgarden are prime examples of grunge-metal, which bacame a staple on alternative rock radio through the mid-90's.

Heavy metal remains today a massively fragmented market, but if all the fragments are taken together, it is still huge. Its future seems relatively assured; there will always be a market for volume and escape, as long as there are teenagers. Heavy metal's highest points are as worthy of listen as any other genre; its low points help keep rock music interesting.

Some important/influential heavy metal artists/songs include:

1. Led Zeppelin: Dazed And Confused
Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin (1969)
"Dazed And Confused", the genre-defining crazed amplified blues from Led Zeppelin's self-titled 1969 debut, actually had been part of the New Yardbirds' stage show in 1968. The genesis of Led Zeppelin had its roots in the Yardbirds, whom Jimmy Page joined in 1966. Their 1967 album, Little Games, featured Page and had strings arranged by John Paul Jones. Page and Jones also played on "Hurdy Gurdy Man", a Donovan single released in 1968. The Yardbirds disbanded in 1968 when Keith Relf and Jim McCarty left the band; Page was left with bassist Chris Dreja and the rights to the Yardbirds' name. Page planned to hire Terry Reid as vocalist, but Reid was unavailable and suggested Robert Plant instead. Dreja left to pursue other projects, and John Paul Jones came in on bass. John Bonham came aboard at Plant's suggestion; he had drummed for Plant in the past. In September 1968, the Page-Plant-Jones-Bonham lineup played a series of gigs as the New Yardbirds; they recorded an album together in 30 hours in October. Their name was Led Zeppelin when they signed with Atlantic, and their debut became the biggest seller in Atlantic history in 1969 (eclipsing former record holder Iron Butterfly). "Dazed and Confused" is surely one of their greatest moments; each band member gets a chance to shine, and the song's guitar and vocal blasts are what heavy metal is all about.

2. Black Sabbath: War Pigs
Black Sabbath: Paranoid (1970)
Critically reviled for the very reasons their fans loved them, Black Sabbath became hugely popular on the basis of a sludgy hyper-amped blues-rock they had developed through previous incarnations as The Polka Tulk Blues Band and Earth. Ozzy Osbourne's forlorn wail rode atop Tony Iommi's leaden, dinosaur-like low-register riffing, which gave the music a gigantic wall of sound. Geezer Butler's lyrics dealt with murky Christian/satanic/death/black magic/anti-war themes (and never sex) and he contributed a heavy bass that often took lead. Bill Ward's drums were busy and retained a sometimes jazzy, swinging sound in between hardcore thumps. "War Pigs" is from their second, and probably best album, Paranoid, from late 1970. The epitome of heavy, it features Osbourne's Jack Bruce influenced blues vocal and Iommi's gargantuan riffing, with an extended prog-rock coda.

3. Deep Purple: Smoke On The Water iTunes
Deep Purple: Machine Head (1972)
Formed in 1968 at a session set up by Chris Curtis of the Searchers, whom they quickly abandoned, Deep Purple's debut, Shades of Deep Purple, was recorded by Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, Jon Lord on organ, drummer Ian Paice, bassist Nick Simper, and vocalist Rod Evans. The debut produced the organ-and-bass driven "Hush" and found the band straddling a fence between heavy metal and progressive rock. Two more albums followed, The Book Of Taliesyn and Deep Purple, both 1969 and both displayed a marked leaning towards progressive rock; Simper and Evans were both subsequently replaced by Roger Glover and Ian Gillan from the pop group Episode 6. A full-fledged excursion into classical-oriented progressive rock followed, Concerto for Group and Orchestra, which featured the London Symphony Orchestra. This album was poorly received, and the band re-thought its approach, Blackmore steered them towards a stripped down, no-frills direction that is now remembered as their classic sound. "Smoke On The Water" is from their peak album, Machine Head, from 1972. Featuring a monster of a basic riff amplified beyond comprehension plus Gillan's bluesy, histrionic vocal, and Lord's big organ, this song perhaps illustrates heavy metal better than any other. The lyrics came about when the band's plans to record at Montreaux in 1971 were scuttled when the venue burned down during a Mothers of Invention appearance.

4. Grand Funk Railroad: Gimme Shelter iTunes
Grand funk railroad: Survival (1971)
Grand Funk Railroad demonstrated just how critically reviled heavy metal was, and just how little the audience cared; if anything, the critics' constant sniping gave the band an underground appeal. Formed in Detroit in 1968 by Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Terry Knight & The Pack, they recruited bassist Mel Shacher from Detroit garage legends ? and the Mysterians, with Knight assuming duties as manager. They made their debut at a key rock festival, the 1969 Atlanta Pop festival, which got them signed to Capitol. They played in a sweaty Detroit-rock boogie style as a power trio, sometimes augmented by organ. By 1971 they were huge, despite the reviews. "Gimme Shelter" is a pounding heavy metal version of the Rolling Stones' classic, from what is very arguably their best album, Survival. Their star would continue to rise, as they reached #1 with "We're An American Band" in 1972 (with new member, keyboardist Craig Frost), and a version of Little Eva's "The Locomotion" in 1974. Their commercial fortunes declined precipitously after that, although they hung on long enough to record an album with Frank Zappa producing in 1976. A brief revival in 1981-1983 produced two more albums; Brewer and Frost later joined Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band while Mark Farner has a career as a Christian Contemporary artist.

5. Judas Priest: Victim of Changes iTunes
Judas Priest: Sad Wings of destiny (1976)
Originally formed in 1970, Judas Priest's recording career began in 1974 after lineup changes brought vocalist Rob Halford, guitarist Glenn Tipton, and drummer John Hinch to the core of guitarist K.K. Downing and bassist Ian Hill. They were well received at the 1975 Reading festival, but it wasn't until their third album, Sad Wings of Destiny in 1976 (with Simon Phillips on drums) that they scored big-time. "Victim of Changes" leads off the album with a real kick; the rest of the album establishes what made Judas Priest the flagship band of the new wave of British Metal: unrelentingly bleak and doom laden atmospherics and lyrics, tight, menacing grooves that come in torrents, speed, a hint of goth, and a deceptive complexity. Sad Wings of Destiny's complexity in arrangements also make it a forerunner of the progressive metal subgenre. The band reached its commercial peak in the mid-1980's; their 90's released fared comparatively poorly, although 2005's reunion Angel of Retribution returned them to the higher reaches of the charts.

6. AC/DC: Highway To Hell
AC/DC: Highway To Hell (1979)
Australia's AC/DC won hearts by avoiding heavy metal's worst tendencies; they weren't sluggish and slow, they weren't grandiose and pompous, they weren't quasi-progressive or flailing in sludge. AC/DC specialized in a jaunty, uptempo, riffs-and-drums propelled music that bore its own very unique sound, and on occasion was lively enough to even dance to. Malcom Young formed the band in 1973 with his younger (then-15 years old) brother Angus on lead guitar. Both were brothers of George Young, from the seminal garage band The Easybeats, and the Easybeats' singer Dale Evans sang lead on their first recording. Angus was encouraged to wear his high school uniform onstage, a practice that he continues to this day. After relocating from Sydney to Melbourne, the band underwent a surprise transformation when Evans refused to take the stage at a 1974 gig; the band's driver Bon Scott was pulled into action in the emergency and became the band's lead singer. Scott was a wildman, known for his prodigious drinking capabilities; his boozy, bluesy wail meshed well with Angus' riffs, which alternated between let's party good times, and doomy gloom. "Highway To Hell" is the highpoint of the Bon Scott era, which ended with Scott's alcohol-related death in 1980. The band soldiered on with Brian Johnson's screaming vocals and entered their greatest commercial period in the 1980's, scoring repeatedly with riff-fests like "You Shook Me All Night Long", "For Those About To Rock", and "Who Made Who".

7. Metallica: Master of Puppets
Metallica: Master of Puppets (1986)
Heavy Metal's great comeback, put into motion with the new wave British Metal bands and Ozzy Osbourne's rebirth, was solidified by the first bona-fide metal titans of the 1980's, Metallica. For many, Metallica saved heavy metal. They were thankfully unpretentious, dressing in street clothes instead of rock star plumage. They brought complexity and dimension to speed metal, turning it from a noisy teenage subgenre to a bona-fide musical style. They showed real progression from album to album without being "progressive"; each time out they zeroed in closer on an elusive perfect speed metal groove. Guitarist Kirk Hammett has influenced an entire generation of metal guitarists, while James Hetfield's rhythm guitar was just as integral, moving the band away from the typical power-trio core. Hetfield's vocals ranged from snarl to growl to roar, and Lard Urlich's drums were intricate and enormous. Cliff Burton complimented Urlich's drums on bass; unfortunately, Burton was killed when the band's tour bus crashed in 1986, shortly after their masterpiece Master of Puppets was released. The title track captures it all in its thunderous glory; lyrically it is anti-authoritarian without getting trashy. After Burton's death, the band continued on with Jason Newsted taking his place; the band had three #1 albums in the 1990's, Metallica, Load, and Reload, despite virtually zero radioplay.

8. Aerosmith: Sweet Emotion iTunes
Aerosmith: Toys In The Attic (1975)
Aerosmith's long history stretches back to Boston in 1970, when vocalist Steven Tyler met guitarist Joe Perry while they were working in an ice-cream parlor. The band released its debut album in 1973 for Columbia and scored immediately with "Dream On". Their image was different from the British and midwestern metal groups; neither doomsters nor hardcore boogiers, they represented a heavy Rolling Stones-meets-the-New York Dolls approach, with Tyler himself landing somewhere between Mick Jagger and David Johanssen in his frontman persona. 1974 was spent solidifying their early success, as they opened for The Kinks, Mott The Hoople, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Sha Na Na on tour; by 1975 their audience had grown to massive proportions, and they hit #11 in 1975 with Toys In The Attic, which included "Sweet Emotion" and "Walk This Way", both top-40 hits. The band famously almost blew their career by the late-70's and early-80's, heavy drug usage resulted in blown and missed gigs, and a lot of bad word in the recording industry. Given a second chance few bands ever get, the band began a comeback in 1985 that has become their most successful era; by the early 90's the band was routinely at the top of the charts.

9. Slayer: Raining Blood iTunes
Slayer: Reign In Blood (1986)
If Black Sabbath represented rock's extreme edge in 1970, Slayer represented it in the 1980's. Graphic and disturbing, their lyrics dealt unremittingly with all kinds of violent imagry, from death and torture to war and hell. Accompanying these themes were a manic speed and thrash, with chaotic guitars, rapid-fire bass and drums, technical assurance, and roaring vocals that produced a blood-drenched nightmare version of speed metal that scored big among antisocials around the world. Formed in Huntington Beach, CA in 1982 by guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, plus bassist/vocalist Jim Araya and drummer Dave Lombardo, they graduated from a metal-covers band to purveyers of their own threatening music on Metal Blade records. Their 1985 album Hell Awaits was the first to gain them national attention; Rick Ruben then signed them to his label and produced their highpoint, Reign In Blood in 1986, which includes the terrifying "Raining Blood", brought into sharp reliefr by Rubin's clear production. Reign In Blood, while full of mayhem that might be too much for many listeners, stands as a watershed speed metal album; only Metallica and Megadeth produced work as realized and influential. The band's subsequent output has never approached this landmark, and their audience has declined, although the band continued releasing albums through 2001.

10. Uriah Heep: The Wizard iTunes
Uriah Heep: Demons And Wizards (1972)
Uriah Heep's history is one of the insanest, most convoluted, and strangest of nearly any band in history of any genre; if Spinal Tap were a real band, they might be Uriah Heep. Their 1970 debut was greeted with open hostility from music critics; one threatened suicide if the band made it, while Rolling Stone called them the worst band ever to earn a gold record (think of the competition!). Undeterred, Uriah Heep worked hard and gained a cult audience larger in America than their own native England, big enough to propel their biggest and best album, Demons And Wizards to #23 in 1972, and their next four albums into the top-40. Centered around a core of vocalist David Byron, Hammond organist Ken Hensley, and guitarist Mick Box, Uriah Heep specialized in a Deep Purple-like attack, often with Dungeons and Dragons-style lyrics, of which "The Wizard" is maybe their best. By 1976, the band had seemingly run its course, but despite an ever changing lineup that left Box the only original member, the band continued to release albums for the faithful, and enjoyed a big renaissance with Abominog in 1982, which earned them some long-overdue appreciation from the music press. Uriah Heep, its lineup stable since 1986, continues to tour and record to this day; in the 1980's they became the first major Western band to tour the Soviet Union.

11. Motorhead: Ace Of Spades iTunes
Motorhead: Ace Of Spades (1980)
Bassist Lemmy Kilminster was the veteran of many little-known bands dating all the way back to 1964, although he first gained attention as member of England's guitar-oriented space-rock outfit Hawkwind in the early 1970's. Kicked out of Hawkwind in 1975 after being jailed on drug charges, Lemmy formed Motorhead in 1976, and named it after his final Hawkwind song. The band's classic era, 1977-1983, was as a trio of Lemmy, "Fast" Eddie Clarke on guitar, and Philthy Animal (Philip Taylor) on drums. "Ace Of Spades", from 1980, is their greatest hit; an almost punky, speed metal workout that meshed metal with a hint of rockabilly, it goes stright for the jugular, and became a biker anthem. Along with Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, Motorhead helped define the new wave British Metal sound of the late 70's/early 80's, and found a devoted cult audience on both sides of the Atlantic. Lemmy continues to lead Motorhead to this day; their albums have become virtually uncountable.

12. Queensryche: Silent Lucidity iTunes
Queensryche: Empire (1990)
Queensryche was often incorrectly lumped in with the emerging pop-metal/hair-metal bands of the late 1980's, but in fact, Queensryche owed far more debt to 70's progressive rock outfits Pink Floyd and Can, with some Queen bombast thrown in. Their two biggest albums, Operation: Mindcrime (1988) and Empire (1991) are cornerstones of the progressive metal subgenre, which took conventional arena metal from Van Halen and meshed it with grandiose 70's style concept-album rock, complete with sound effects, strings, plotlines, and larger-than-life stage shows. "Silent Lucidity" from Empire is arguably their masterpiece; a top-10 hit, it strongly recalls Pink Floyd in its ominous acoustic base, its fluid lead guitar, and its enormous sound effect laden production. Formed in Seattle in 1981 by guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton, the pair added high school friends vocalist Geoff Tate and bassist Eddie Jackson to the lineup, and hired Scott Rockenfield on drums. Their early work was in a Judas Priest vein until they hooked up with orchestral arranger Michael Kamen, who changed their sound. The band didn't follow up Empire until 1994, by which time grunge and alternative rock had sapped their audience. They continue to this day, following significant lineup changes, with a much more stripped down approach.

13. Blue Oyster Cult: Cities On Flame With Rock 'N' Roll iTunes
Blue Oyster Cult: Blue Oyster Cult (1972)
Blue Oyster Cult, from Long Island, took things a step further than most early 70's hard-rock/metal bands. Instead of simply producing concept albums, the entire band was conceptual in nature, an invention of college students (and future rock critics) Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer, who put together the earliest version of the band, Soft White Underbelly, in 1967. The band, which consisted of most of the band that became BOC, recorded two albums for Elektra, with neither getting released. A second chance came in 1971 when they were signed to Columbia; the band was re-named Blue Oyster Cult, and the line-up was set with Eric Bloom on vocals/guitar, Al Lanier on keyboards, Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser on guitar, Al Bouchard on drums, and Joe Bouchard on bass; Meltzer and Pearlman contributed to the songwriting, and Pearlman managed. Blue Oyster Cult was released in January 1972, and made many critics' best-of lists for the year. Sinister and creepy, with a Velvet Undergound vibe in addition to guitar muscle, Blue Oyster Cult remains a classic. "Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll" is the most conventional heavy metal number on the album, but VU-style perversion as "She's As Beautiful As A Foot", bizarre frightshow riffing as "Transmaniacon MC", and an odd obsession with astronomy on "Stairway To The Stars" and "Workshop Of The Telescopes" come closer to defining their sound. The band scored a surprise #12 hit with "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" in 1976; they remained album rock favorites through the early 1980's.

14. Alice In Chains: Rooster iTunes
Alice In Chains: Dirt (1992)
Alice In Chains emerged from Seattle at the same time grunge did, and are therefore often lumped in with the grunge groups, although they are far more firmly in the metal tradition than most of their peers. Bleak, nihilistic, slow, doom-riff laden, with obvious influences in Black Sabbath and Van Halen, they had less in common with grunge acts like Nirvana and Soundgarden than they did with their 70's forebears. They also recorded for major label Columbia, instead of Seattle scene setters Sub Pop, which set them apart. Their existence was always timultuous; guitarist Jerry Cantrell and vocalist Layne Staley had different approaches to the band's sound, and Staley's increasingly burdonsome drug habit tore at the fabric of the band as well. Still, their first three albums are classics, particularly Dirt, from 1992. "Rooster" is the highlight of Dirt, and sounds like the reincarnation of classic Black Sabbath, right down to Staley's Ozzy Osbourne/Jack Bruce vocal and Cantrell's humongous sludge-riffing. "Rooster" is harrowing; written by Cantrell, it draws from his father's experience in the Vietnam War, while Staley finds the junky connection in its imagry, giving it a haunted, bellowing performance. Staley's drug abuse grew worse over the years, rendering the band inoperative by 1998; in 2002 he was dead of an overdose. Alice In Chains was quite influential, informing the sound of bands like Godsmack, Creed, and Puddle of Mudd.

15. Pantera: Mouth For War iTunes
Pantera: Vulgar Display of Power (1992)
If Metallica saved metal in the 1980's by throwing out its stagnant old formulas and reinventing a new one, Pantera deserves credit for doing the very same thing in the 1990's. Out was the speed metal Metallica helped invent; in was slower, sludgier tempoes and heavier atmospherics. However, Pantera was far from a return to metal's lumbering 70's heyday; the tempos were slow, but they were busy and unpredictable; Phil Anselmo's vocals took on a militaristic bark, Dimebag Darrell Abbott (earlier known as Diamond Darrell), son of a country music singer/producer, specialized in brutal, pummeling riffs that could change direction in an instant. The band's first recording, influenced by Judas Priest and Motley Crue, appeared in 1983; it, and the subsequent two, were later disowned by the band. All three featured Terry Glaze on vocals; when Glaze was replaced by Anselmo, the band's classic sound began to develop rapidly, moving away from the pop-metal sounds of their early work into a dark, aggressive, confrontational sound. Their high point was Vulgar Display of Power from 1992. "Mouth For War" leads it off captures the band at their roaring best; the later work of Korn and Tool borrow some cues here. Their next album, Far Beyond Driven, from 1994, reached #1 on the charts (perhaps the edgiest album ever to do so), but internal tensions began to damage the band; their final release came in 2000 and they broke up for good. In a bizarre and tragic postscript, Dimebag Darrell was shot and killed, along with several others, by an enraged fan who leapt onstage and started shooting at a show by Darrell's new band, Damageplan, in 2004.

16. Van Halen: Runnin' With The Devil iTunes
Van Halen: Van Halen (1978)
Van Halen deserves a little more credit than they usually get for contributing to the evolution of hard rock and heavy metal. Their tremendous chart successes and arena-oriented stage shows earned them some scorn from the metal underground, but Eddie Van Halen did indeed help rewrite heavy metal guitar in a faster, slicker, speedier image. David Lee Roth put a new spin on frontman by borrowing Robert Plant conventions and meshing them with a purposely obnoxious lounge-lizard persona. Brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen were born in the Netherlands, but came to Pasadena, CA in 1967 when they were in middle school. Originally, Alex played guitar and younger brother Eddie played drums; Alex soon could outplay Eddie on drums, and the brothers switched instruments. They encountered Roth a few years later, and formed a band called Mammoth; in 1974, it was renamed Van Halen. The band paid dues in bars, clubs, and hotels throughout Southern California before Gene Simmons of Kiss caught their act and financed a demo session; Simmons pitched them to Warners, where they landed a deal. "Runnin' With The Devil" is from their 1978 debut Van Halen, which was one of the best metal debuts ever. It captures all that was best about the band's original lineup, from Eddie's lightning guitar to Roth's cocky, self-assured vocals. Personality clashes led to Roth's departure in 1984; his replacement was veteran hard rocker Sammy Hagar with whom the band continued to have hits through 1995. Since then, the band has been in something of a shambles; an album with Gary Cherone replacing Hagar did poorly in 1998; rumored reunions with Roth never really came true, and in 2001 Eddie Van Halen was diagnosed with cancer, although he has been in remission. No studio album of new material has appeared since the Cherone-fronted Van Halen III in 1998.

17. Megadeth: Symphony Of Destruction iTunes
Megadeth: Countdown To Extinction (1992)
Thrash metal heroes Megadeth were formed when Metallica's founding guitarist Dave Mustaine was kicked out in 1983 (reportedly for his drug usage) and formed his own group with bassist Dave Ellefson; an early version of the band included Slayer guitarist Kerry King. Chris Poland on guitar and Gar Samuelson on drums eventually rounded out the Mustaine/Ellefson core. Megadeth shared Metallica's essential speed-metal approach with considerable success, differing from the original group by speeding up the tempoes even more, tossing most progressive elements, and emphasizing a harsher, more violent instrumental attack. Megadeth's first major-label album Peace Sells...But Who's Buying went platinum in 1986, despite no radioplay, but Mustaine's drug abuse was resulting in erratic behavior, perhaps typified by his sudden firing of Poland and Samuelson following this success. Jeff Young and Chuck Behler replaced them, and the band released So Far, So Good...So What! in 1988, which featured a notorious version of the Sex Pistol's "Anarchy In The U.K.". Mustaine ultimately landed in rehab in 1990; when he emerged, he fired Young and Behler and brought in guitarist Marty Friedman and drummer Nick Menza. This heralded Megadeth's most successful era, Countdown to Extinction entered the charts at #2 and contains their most well-known track "Symphony of Destruction" which actually made #71 on the Billboard singles charts. Continued success carried them through the 1990's (with more lineup adjustments), but in 2002 Mustaine was diagnosed with nerve damage that prevented him from playing guitar, causing a breakup. However, Mustaine recovered enough for a new Megadeth album in 2004 which reteamed him with the fired Dave Poland.

18. Ozzy Osbourne: Crazy Train iTunes
Ozzy Osbourne: Blizzard of Ozz (1980)
Ozzy Osbourne was a mess when he left Black Sabbath in 1978; drug addled, without a hit album in years (in the U.S.; Sabbath albums still sold fairly well in the U.K.), seemingly with no direction or prospects, he was a sure bet for has-been. Fortunately for Osbourne, his future wife Sharon took over his managerial duties, and helped get him together enough to release his solo debut in 1980. He was joined by young Quiet Riot veteran Randy Rhodes on guitar, who helped invent the new speed metal of the 80's, and a pair of Uriah Heep members, Lee Kerslake on drums and Bob Daisley on bass. The debut, Blizzard Of Ozz, relied on old Sabbath formulas of occult, insanity, and witchcraft themes, but was far more varied and flexible in their attack, thanks primarily to Rhodes' virtuosity. The album, which included the single "Crazy Train", was a huge comeback, peaking at #7 in the U.K. and #21 in the States; a follow-up Diary of a Madman was rush released in 1981 to consolidate this success and hit even bigger. A wild tour followed, culminating in Ozzy's famous bat-biting incident; and Ozzy has never had to worry about paying the rent since. In 2001, The Osbournes made him one of the most unlikely TV stars in recent memory.

19. Budgie: Breadfan
Budgie: Never Turn Your Back On A Friend (1973)
Budgie was an important first-wave Welch metal band that hasn't quite gotten its fair share of glory in the States, despite Metallica's version of "Breadfan", and Alice In Chains and Soundgarden pointing to them as influences. Formed in Cardiff, Wales in 1967 as a classic power trio consisting of bassist/vocalist Burke Shelley, guitarist Tony Bourge, and drummer Raymond Phillips, their sound can best be likened to a cross between a sped-up Black Sabbath and a less-progressive Rush. This lineup recorded the band's first three albums in 1971-1973, which stand as their best. In 1974, Phillips left, and the drummer and guitarist slots ultimately became revolving doors; Shelly helmed various versions of the band until their final album in 1982. "Breadfan" led off Never Turn Your Back on a Friend from 1973, which remains the band's peak; it is a high-octane slab of embryonic speed metal that undoubtedly left an impression on Metallica.

20. Guns 'n' Roses: Paradise City iTunes
Guns 'n' Roses: Appetite For Destruction (1987)
And then there's Guns 'n' Roses. Somewhere between hard rock and metal lay Guns 'n' Roses in the late 1980's at a time when both were suffering from declining sales; Guns 'n' Roses became the megaplatinum saviors of hard rock for jaded MTV viewers sick of pop groups. Formed in Los Angeles in 1985 and familiar on Sunset Strip when hair metal was taking over the scene, Guns 'n' Roses had the extra something needed to set them apart from the others. Part of it came from Axl Roses almost psychotic rage at everything and anything; part of it was the twin chainsaw riffs of Slash and Izzy Stradlin. Duff McKagen and Steven Adler were a propulsive rhythm section. The band's full-length debut Appetite For Destruction was a monster hit around the world, "Paradise City" is arguably the best cut from the album. The band's subsequent history is mind-boggling in its wastefulness. G 'n' R Lies, a double-EP arrived in 1988 and stirred up a hornet's nest with its xenophobic and homophobic "One In A Million". The band made the ill-advised decision to release two albums simultaneously in 1991, Use Your Illusion I & II; both went platinum but overexposed the band. A punk covers album The Spaghetti Incident? was released in 1993, and then...nothing. Over the years, the members drifted away or quit, until only Axl remained, yet no new product appeared. In 2001, a Axl led a new Guns 'n' Roses on his first tour since 1993; after a few dates, the tour was cancelled. An album, Chinese Democracy has been planned for release for years; it has yet to see the light of day. Slash and McKagen teamed up with Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots in a new band, Velvet Revolver, in 2002. Axl remains in seclusion, the years ticking by, having seemingly turned his back on one of the biggest shows on earth.

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Uriah Heep are the best!!
No thanks. I'd rather have a root
And here is a perfect illustration of the wide spread in public opinion on this music form.

Good list, some root canals, some amazing.

Need more "Heavy Metal Thunder"

Folk next door are 'into' this - its amazing how far a picture can move without falling off the wall while led zep is played there at full volume-not my thing at all!

I guess metal sure isn't everyone's cup of tea, so to speak... ;-)

I like to think of myself as a man of taste, as well as a middle-of-the-roadist (how far I've stryed since my reckless youth...)

But I'll always remember what it was like to be in my rock poster enshrouded castle (i.e. my room in my parents' house), glowing in black light, while blasting Paranoid or Physical Graffiti at top volume, letting the sheer force of the music pummel my typical teen rage at how misunderstood I was by one and all, until I was numb.

It didn't exactly make me feel better; but it did make me feel like I wan't the only kid who felt as I did, whenever I saw another kid wearing a Sabbath T-shirt or Zoso patch.

So I'll be grateful to heavy metal for getting me through a rough patch there.

I was a latecomer to that 70's metal and a little too old to have been a prime demographic for 80's metal. But I've actually made a point of fleshing out my collection to include all the bands on the list; I'm very patient with music, even root-canal variety. Metallica really were pretty great, and a band like Slayer does what it does a lot better than their peers.

I don't make a lot of extra time to listen to metal these days; we all grow up at some point. But when it comes on the randomplay, if the mood is just right, I'll bang my head with the best of them. Then, I reach for the icepack.

Thanks everyone for the comments; it always helps the articles.

Sidebar: I recently upped these weekend genre explorations to 20 tracks instead of 10 because I hated leaving out so many deserving artists. I really wish I had time to do 40 for each one, because a lot of deserving or important ones still get left out.

In this case, tip of the hat also to:

Alice Cooper, Def Leppard, Anthrax, Masters of Reality, Iron Maiden, Rage Against The Machine, Accept, Danzig, Dio, Motley Crue, Scorpions, Ratt, Faith No More, Mercyful Fate...
I miss one of the bands more popular in spain "Twisted sister" with this great "I wanna rock".
Very nice blog, hard to come by these days,

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It has all guitar related stuff.

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Budgie is still making CD's having released a new one at the end of 2006 entitled "You're All Living In Cuckooland".....Burke Shelley, Steve Williams and Simon Lees.....unfortunately none of Budgie's guitarists play like Tony Bourge.... - San Jose Funeral Home San Jose Funeral Home serving the whole Bay Area for all of your funeral needs: Memorial Services, Cremation servies, Graveside Services and all your ...
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