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JJ's Bizarre Blog #25 - Reforging the Metal - Tempered Steel Edition


Hello again, everyone! April is upon us and the march of time is no joke! Hope the weather keeps getting nicer and the sunshine lasts longer. For this entry in the Bizarre Blog series, I realized we’re already at No. 25! If I’m not mistaken, that’s a Silver Jubilee! Also, April seems to be a month of creation, a month of new experiences and would you look at that, the very first Bizarre Blog came out in April last year! So since we’ve reached this monumental entry and are closing in on the one year anniversary of the greatest project I’ve been able to work on so far, I thought to myself that I barely managed to scratch the surface of the original topic a year ago. I was still learning the ropes of this blog thing, but I’ve grown now, I’ve evolved a lot and I’m ready to delve deeper. So, for this very special entry, allow me to properly introduce you to the origins and evolution of classic heavy metal!


Let’s resync our clocks first and once again go over what heavy metal truly is. It’s a subgenre of rock music and most closely associated with hard rock and focusing on electric guitar as the leading instrument. What separates the sphere of metal from rock is the use of heavier, lower tuned guitars and frequent ecclectic solos, faster and more hectic drumming, thunderous bass and a generally louder and more bombastic sound. Guitars would most often use heavy distortion, allowing for a much more aggressive tone. Keyboards are not an uncommon occurrence, either providing extra melody alongside the guitars or helping build a dense atmosphere. A big distinguishing factor is also the delving into much darker and more taboo lyrical themes such as death, war, evil, Satanism, demons, depression, politics, substance abuse, etc. The origins of the term “heavy metal” itself is unclear, originating either from hippie slang from the 60s where "metal" was used to refer to that specific dense and dark vibe or from terminology used in reference to motorcycles, since the movement was (and still is) closely associated with biker culture. For this blog, I’m going to focus on classic heavy metal specifically and abstain from delving into subgenres. I’ve already done that quite a bit and will do that some more in future for sure.




First, let’s start with some hard rock, the granddaddy of metal and the genre most often confused with it. While the dividing line between the two is quite blurred, the rock bands are the ones that still firmly stick to the classic songwriting formulas and lyrical themes of rock ‘n’ roll but dial up the intensity a bit. Some of the most iconic songs of all time were born in the hard rock sphere.


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As you probably already know, metal was practically invented by Birmingham band Black Sabbath at the turn of the 70s. Guitarist Tony Iommi would end up losing the tips of two of his fingers in an accident with an industrial machine and this pushed him to develop a unique style of play that was lower tuned, darker and heavier. Combine this with the energetic rhythm section of Geezer Butler and Bill Ward and the emotional and captivating vocal performances of the Godfather Ozzy Osbourne, the formula for heavy metal had been born. Osbourne’s love of the occult and horror movies also helped influence the band’s dark and macabre lyrics, their very name being taken from an old horror film. This would cement the other main ingredient for heavy metal besides the sound – the dark lyrical subject matter. A new sound had been born and it took the world by storm.


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Alongside Sabbath, two other British bands were making waves around this time and the three together would form “The Unholy Trinity” that birthed heavy metal into existence. These two acts are none other than Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Combining more intense musicianship, complex compositions and eerie lyrics, they breathed a new layer of darkness that would inspire generations of musicians to follow in their footsteps.


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From the 70s onward, the blueprint had been set and countless artists started adopting this new style and helping grow this fascinating movement of outcasts and their dark music. This was a particularly turbulent and unstable time in history, so needless to say, there was no shortage of dark themes to explore and all of the pent up frustrations of the entire world finally had an outlet to be set free. 


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One man that arose during this time and revolutionized the genre many times over would be my favourite singer of all time – Ronnie James Dio! Playing in various bands, including his own and even Black Sabbath, he introduced more poetic lyrics rooted in fantasy literature and told tales of epic proportions with his fantastic emotional operatic performances. Words cannot describe the magnificence of his presence and his creations. What he contributed to the world of metal cannot be understated – he is so pivotal to the genre, he even first popularized the metal horns hand gesture 🤘 commonly associated with the entire subculture to this day. That alone should tell you enough.


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From here on, Birmingham wasn’t done shaking the world of music apparently, because they were home to the next most revolutionary band in heavy metal – the Gods called Judas Priest. From their progressive roots, they evolved the Sabbath-y sound into something incredible, with their punchy, powerful riffs, hard hitting songs and Rob Halford’s recognizable voice, they created the template for what true heavy metal was and launched the genre into the stratosphere! They even popularized leather, spikes and chains as a part of metal fashion. While for some of their predecessors it was debatable whether some of their songs were rock or metal, Judas Priest were undeniable. This was and still is heavy metal in its absolute purest form, the gold standard. They have truly blessed us with some of the greatest metal songs and albums ever made. 


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Judas Priest would also be arguably the first band to kickstart a new movement around their native UK that helped define heavy metal proper – the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM for short. This encapsulates a variety of bands that followed in Priest’s wake and crafted a very similar style and equally badass sound and lyrics. This is when heavy metal truly came into its own and cemented itself as a powerhouse in popular music.


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From this movement, one band would rise above all else, above even Judas Priest you might say. A titan of the world of metal, an unstoppable force, whose greatest albums are largely unmatched to this very day. You definitely know the name – Iron Maiden! What Sabbath started and Priest refined, Maiden perfected. Introducing incredible melodic dual guitar leads, more epic and grand compositions, Steve Harris’ iconic galloping bass and dynamic and energetic drumming courtesy of Nicko McBrain, all guided by fantastical and story-driven lyrics about history, glory and honour, usual narrated by the phenomenal polymath that is Bruce Dickinson, Iron Maiden created a symphony unheard of until this point. Metal, nay, music as a whole would never be the same past this point. Maiden’s glorious anthems would echo the world over and would resonate with countless hearts in a synchronized chorus of freedom. To this day, they deliver some of the greatest live performances in front of some of the largest crowds imaginable. Words are too feeble to describe the experiences they create, I can only recommend you experience them for yourself. Iron Maiden are, without question, the greatest metal band of all time (in my most humble opinion at least).


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For over a decade, the UK would be the undisputed powerhouse of heavy metal. However, every child eventually leaves its birthplace and it wasn’t long before the metal madness spread across the Channel. One of the earliest acts to reach prominence would be a band of leather clad rebels from Germany ready to set the world ablaze. These would be none other than the legends Accept. In my humble opinion, they are a band that needs to be put on the same pedestal as legends like Judas Priest. They’ve been doing it for almost as long, they’ve made some of the greatest albums and songs of all time and they’ve been the spearhead of European metal for many decades now. Not to mention, Udo Dirkschneider’s recognizable bark and unique stage presence have ascended him to true metal God status, they’ve consistently had the most solid rhythm section ever and Wolf Hoffman is without a doubt one of the greatest guitarists ever, criminally underrated. His riffs will make your head fall off with their catchyness, while also being so melodic you can sing along to them. Not to mention his solos sound like an entire symphony orchestra. Accept are up there on the pantheon of metal and it’s time we gave them their flowers.


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Due to a lot of disputes, the legendary Udo Dirkschneider would end up leaving Accept, but this would turn out to be a blessing in disguise, as he would go on to found his own band U.D.O. and continue carrying the banner of metal with utmost pride. His songs there are some of the purest and greatest classic heavy metal bangers ever made. And, Accept themselves are also still going to this day, so in essence, they just underwent metal mitosis and the fans were the ones that benefited the most in the end, now that we have two godly metal bands instead of one!


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Accept would lay a solid foundation and their passionate flames would ignite many souls. Thanks to them, Germany would become a hotbed of metal music and would spawn more phenomenal bands. A powder keg of talent and connections, the Bundesland would be the perfect breeding ground for many new subgenres to be born in future and to this day, they retain some of the strongest metal culture of any country in the world. Anyone heard of this little summer party called Wacken? Rock am Ring perhaps? Even Full Force?


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From there on, the spark was there and the fires were lit as heavy metal began to spread worldwide. Quickly, it became a universal phenomenon all over Europe and a cornerstone of youth culture. A continent that just survived its most turbulent decades had a voice to say what they wanted to say and a community to show their full camaraderie.


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One of the most influential bands to arise during this time were born to the north of the Bundesland and would breathe a new, never-before-seen darkness into the realm – Denmark’s occult legends Mercyful Fate. Clad in macabre facepaint, wielding a cross made of human bones as his mic stand and belching out enthralling horror stories with his signature falsetto wail, the legendary King Diamond would spearhead this amazing act and pioneer many of the common tropes of metal. Mercyful Fate would sing songs about demons and mythology and decorate their album covers and stage decor with skulls and pentagrams many many years before it became truly fashionable to do so. Most modern metal would not be how it is without them and their long lasting influence cannot be understated. Not to mention that their records were absolutely phenomenal too.


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With such a loud presence, it’s no surprise that it didn’t take long for heavy metal to cross the Atlantic and reach the New World. The USA and their neighbours already had a very strong hard rock movement and legendary biker culture so the evolution felt completely natural. The classic loudmouth and in-your-face American attitude would be a perfect fit and many iconic artists would crop up and show that metal was here to stay! 


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One of the most iconic of this era would be the chaotic and fun-loving W.A.S.P. - while they were too late in the history of the genre to be considered pioneers, they took that classic formula and distilled it to perfection, bringing forth a layer of brutal honesty that was oh so refreshing.


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And so, metal had become a global phenomenon, captivating millions. As I’m sure you’ve learned from my blogs until now, metal has evolved quite significantly from its leather clad roots and it has gone on to spawn an unfathomable web of subgenres. However, the classic sound is still alive and well and that original metal heart is still beating. For starters, a lot of the classic bands that I already talked about are still knocking around today and still putting out absolutely phenomenal records that retain that oldschool spirit while still sounding fresh. They keep selling out stadiums worldwide and showing the youngsters how it’s done! These old timers still have plenty of gas in the tank!


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However, there have also been no shortage of younger bands, who chose to ignore the giant web of subgernes born over the years and focus on the distilled classic sound instead. After all, there’s nothing wrong with paying homage to the classics and these guys have shown that there is still potential for new things to be done in the style. 


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And so we arrive at the conclusion of our journey. The classics should be appreciated, not just because the new stuff wouldn’t exist without them, but because a lot of them genuinely hold up amazingly to this day. And after all, metal never dies! 




Beyond all that, I would like to extend once again my thank you for this incredible journey I’ve been on for the last year. It has been my utmost pleasure to unleash my creativity and share all of my random musical and non-music knowledge with you here. Let me reiterate what I said way back in blog No. 1 - I hope you enjoy reading what I have for you as much as I enjoy writing it. I would like to end this entry by saying that just like the veterans of classic heavy metal, I have plenty of gas in the tank too, so don’t expect me to stop anytime soon! I want to keep pushing myself, keep outdoing what I’ve done so far and keep taking you with me on grand adventures through the realms of music. So cheers to this quadranscentennial blog and here’s to many more! I’m far from done! In fact, I have something pretty huge planned for next time, something I’ve never done before. Stay tuned and keep watch for the smoke signal!