Tales from the Jugular
Reminiscing on The Golden Age of Heavy Metal
By: Eric Compton
Published: Saturday, January 24, 2015
Tony Iommi, guitarist of heavy metal band Black Sabbath. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Heavy metal cut its teeth (and fingers) in the steel mills and factories of Birmingham,
England in the 60s. Metal clanging and hammers banging echoed through the industrial parks
and streets as our godfather, Tony Iommi, created and perfected metallic excellence in one
Metal was forged in the fires.
Metal was born.
Metal is alive.
Since then, the circumnavigation of heavy metal has consistently revolved around one
comprehensive question--who made who?
Out of the 60s, the highway star burned, elevated by the sad wings of destiny on through
the night. From the mid-70s, bands like Saxon, Maiden and Raven etched their hallowed
names in that NWOBHM movement. The 80s beckoned big hair and loud mouths, the
pre-requisite for anyone patrolling downtown Strips at Sunset. It's so easy to place bands,
styles and movements in little baskets through metal's first
three decades. Anyone can do it; create charts and graphs
documentaries about metal's triumphant decades of decadence.
AC/DC is rock, file under rock.
Maiden is metal, put them in metal.
But the 90s
oh the dreadful 90s
that is when things got extremely dense. Gone
are the easy categories, metal's Dewey Decimal System of easily finding rock, metal,
country and pop in the record and CD bins under said genre. The insurgence of grunge and
alternative superimposed itself on metal's OCD grouping of the denims, leathers and
polyesters. Now we have a whole new level of excitement, along with a new level of groans
from the die-hard traditionalists.
Metal wasn't so easy now.
"Stockholm is the new Sunset Strip!" --attributed to Chris Laney of Zan Clan.
Stateside, grunge ran off the big hair and big mouths, and replaced it with flannel mop
heads, introverted lyrics and a spoiled brat mentality. They didn't want to rock and roll
all night, and they wore it on their sleeves as an emblem to ward off 80s culture. The
grunge movement killed off the US metal and hard rock scene. Iron Maiden, Overkill, Blue
Oyster Cult, Motorhead and even Molly Hatchet were relegated to smaller labels, audiences
and checks. The 80s saw Iron Maiden playing arenas like The Forum and Madison Square
Garden. The 90s saw them sans Dickinson playing bars and clubs. We saw Bruce Dickinson and
Adrian Smith play to a bar crowd of three-hundred people. Dio and Priest did the same.
Domestically, the climate had changed considerably, and the by-product was a very diverse
field of players. Pearl Jam's Eddie Veder and Alice in Chains' Layne Staley became the
benchmark for singers in 90s America. Days of the New toured with a shaven Metallica.
Alice in Chains joined Clash of the Titans. Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins were the new
By the late 90s and early 00s things changed again. Grunge was purged, its replacement was
Nu-metal and Rapcore. Bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock was the new regime. The
kids didn't want addictive guitar riffs, instead the electric rhythms and tribal beats
were enough to suffice. Industrial was spilling out onto dance floors thanks to Marilyn
Manson, Rob Zombie and Rammstein. Long hair and toboggans were replaced with dreads and
face piercing. Scott Ian cultivated a
Hollywood became infatuated with Bizkit's Fred Durst and Marilyn Manson. It
many ways it was the opponent of grunge's social awkwardness. Nu-metal encouraged unity
and preached rebellion as one nation. Like grunge, it was a short relationship with
In the the mid 00s an animated
swept the nation and spoofed hard rock and heavy metal which had shifted
into the New Wave of American Heavy Metal, a short lived genre term that eventually was
shuffled into the broader realm of Metalcore. Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage, All that
Remains and As I Lay Dying picked up where Gothenburg, Sweden's melodic metal movement
ended. American bands were playing in the style of early In Flames, At the Gates and Dark
Tranquillity. It was this genre that started showing sparks of the original NWOBHM sound
simply because the Swedish bands retained that melody in their movement of the 90s. Not
since the late 80s had guitar riffs and melodies, especially solos, had such an important
role in hard music. Bands started to showboat with twin guitar finesse, staccato riffs
matching tit-for-tat the thrash sounds of the 80s with more hardcore and punk aggression.
It was a popular marriage, elevated one more notch with the retro thrash movement that
evolved shortly thereafter. Bands like Evile, Municipal Waste, Bonded by Blood and
Warbringer rose to the forefront as the
, who may not
have been alive during the 80s Bay Area scene, clamored for more and more thrash. Older
facets of the 80s sound became prominent again.
was hired by countless young bands to design their album covers. Non-active bands like Onslaught, Laaz
Rockit, Heathen and Exodus reformed and released new albums. Even Metallica returned to
their late 80s sound, fueled by the fans' wishes.
Somewhere between metalcore and retro thrash, Sweden decided to form their own Stockholm Strip
is the new Sunset Strip!" is attributed to Chris Laney of Zan Clan. Bands like
Hardcore Superstar, Crazy Lixx, Sister Sin, and Crash Diet brought back the sounds of the
80s, the Ratt/Motley Crue/Guns 'N Roses sound for a whole new generation of fans. The
robust movement has spawned hundreds of bands and continues to grow month after month.
By the late 00s and early 10s, retro thrash, glam and hard rock eventually spilled over
into a pool that is as vibrant and as diverse as ever. Sub-genres like gothic, symphonic,
stoner, power, death and black are all equally populated with folk and pagan bands
representing their style and country.
Nearly 50 years later heavy metal is as strong as it ever was. It's embraced and unified
by its creators and fans. With free outlets like Spotify
emerging yearly, a rise in
self-created videos, and fan-funded Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, one can spend
days on end sampling the many aspects of metal from all ages. It's a tree of musical growth, ever branching out.
It is truly the golden age of metal, and I couldn't be happier.
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