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The old Vs. new definition of Heavy Metal

The Roleplayer

Oct 2, 2018
Here's something I wanna ask ya'll for those who are metalheads: Are today's generations familiar with the original - and the incorrect - definition of metal? I've been hearing about a very strong case for it if ya go by the historical one - not the one we used now properly.

I think the definition of metal was changed for a lot of reasons with either the first wave of black metal (Venom, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost), thrash (Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax), or at the very latest with grunge (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains). It showed enough proof to include some of the early corrections. In the Seventies, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple were considered as the pioneers of metal along with Black Sabbath. Some (if not, then maybe most) even argued for bands like the Who, the Kinks, Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience before them. Most of the bands from the seventies are correctly classified as hard/arena rock, but they were formerly considered as metal. The Stones and obviously the Beatles weren't cause they were considered to predate it. Most of the rock acts after them were at the time, but some might argue that presenting the genre to only mean Black Sabbath is historical revisionism.

Everybody knows the term came from the second verse of Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild" when John Kay or maybe one of the other members from band lyrically wrote it on the second line.

"Heavy metal thunder"

But they're simply just a rock band from the late Sixties - not metal.

I read a few things online about a critic and journalist named Lester Bangs who originally wrote for Rolling Stone and later moved to the currently discontinued rock publication called Cream Magazine which was the Loudwire and Blabbermouth back then. He once wrote a piece on the history of metal and started with the Who, Cream, Zeppelin and Hendrix with the inclusion of Purple, Aerosmith, Kiss, MC5, ZZ Top, the Velvet Underground, and even the Stooges. Clearly, none of those bands are metal, but they were considered such at the time to most of the general public.

That was written in the early Eighties before Bangs' death as he also wrote this too.

"Heavy metal, mutant monster bad boy of Sixties rock, has at last gone middle-of-the-road respectable (especially in a plethora of faceless corporate bands with interchangeable one-word monickers like Triumph, Toto, Foreigner, Journey, etc., etc., etc.)"

Bangs died during the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement when it was reaching it's endpoint in popularity, but it showed what the definition of metal was considered right before it was properly changed only to mean black, thrash and the early metal bands who truly originated an artistic movement of the genre like Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motorhead, and Iron Maiden. Cause of this, almost all of the seventies bands have proper terms. While he hated Journey and Foreigner, he still saw them as metal during his lifetime.

I've also checked out another music journalist named Chuck Eddy who has a more broader definition of metal as his was pretty much anything that would have been considered metal at any period during the genre's existence from Sixties to now. He consider arena rock, early indie rock, and almost all punk as metal sonically rather than visually, since he doesn't really see difference between any of those genres at all. He even argued metal had "fully swallowed" rock, which is very disagreeable. But the only big difference is how they were given and how they were categorized by their audiences of fans and critics, like when someone harshly slammed at a certain band for being "too weak and wimpy" or for being "too dumb and macho."

Eddy ridiculously went too far when he tried to make an argument that Pat Benatar is metal, and shockingly didn't include anything by Priest and Maiden on his top album list. Even though he have some very strong and crazy unpopular opinions, but it's a neat little idea that's not fully worthy to send away. To Eddy, the most interesting thing about metal is when it mixes with other genres rather than being a form of fan service music for purists (which is not a bad thing at all especially when non-metal bands have their own styles of heavy music). His definition is more similar to Bangs' than the current definition.

If ya dig through old magazines and newspapers and read music-related reviews, you might found where a certain hard rock band like Boston were labeled as "America's Best Metal Band." As funny as it sounds, it does show where contemporary thought was at that time. When I think of prog metal, I think of Queensrÿche, Dream Theater and even Tool to a lesser extent. But it's possible you might think Rush has more of a case of being the inventors of the sub-genre along with King Crimson even though nobody would put them there cause they were more on the hard rock side of heavy music....

Remember when all the hard rock bands with a glamy spin like Bon Jovi and Motley Crue used to be one of the faces of America back in the Eighties until the decade ended? While they were tagged as "Glam Metal," (which I use to say about ceratin bands from that era but don't anymore), most of them or maybe none at all are metal but they were back then before the definition was changed properly. "Hair Metal" is actually a derogatory used by journalists, hipsters, tastemakers and other naysayers to "bury" them as being nothing but "styles over substance" - but those bands never were in most cases to tell ya the truth.

Instead, they should be consider as the second wave of glam rock cause they made their debut when the first wave (T.Rex, Roxy Music, Slade) went into a deep decline in popularity in the United Kingdom until it fully became a thing in a past. And many of the Eighties hard rock bands in the States wanted to bring some of the characteristics back by upgrading them with some innovations until they were starting to have issues on the saturation by the end of the decade; that’s when all the grunge bands from Washington State went on a rise.

How did those guys became so successful commercially in the Nineties? I once watched a documentary about MTV's Headbanger's Ball on YouTube and found out they were originally marketed on metal, and you might have a case on the original. Alice In Chains and Soundgarden are still the most metal-oriented bands from the scene; Nirvana was partly influenced by hard rock bands who were originally considered metal but never were other than punk, alternative, noise rock and outsider music. And while Pearl Jam doesn't really fit, they did came out of Mother Love Bone who would be consider as metal to some cause of their glamy traits and sounded like they'd fit in perfectly with Poison on tour.

And this is where things get interesting about the old and new definitions after the heydays of grunge. Sure, the term "nu-metal" is mostly just a marketing term used by the music industry to promote certain bands who made their debut in the Mid-Nineties through the Early Two Thousands cause they're heavy in their own way and were new at the time (hence the stylized word of the term). But I think the phrase itself was based on the original definition and the musical styles were mostly inspired by bands who are/were related to the proper version of the definition.

Linkin Park, Deftones, and Limp Bizkit are mostly influenced by heavy non-metal bands with metal influences like Faith No More, Nine Inch Nails, Jane's Addiction, Helmet (whose founding member once collaborated with LP and is friends with them) and even hardcore punk other than rap/hip-hop; Korn is a heavy funk rock band with some elements of doom (Black Sabbath, Trouble) and a little bit of groove metal (Pantera, Exhorder, the Post-80's Sepultura); System of a Down was mostly quirky as bands like Primus, Mr. Bungle, the Dead Kennedys, and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention but showed a significant amount of thrash influences with an Armenian rhythm; Staind was influenced by the metal based grunge bands; Static-X was influenced by the metal based industrial bands; Godsmack always show their love of 70’s and 80’s bands who are/were related to the old and current definitions; and Slipknot, Mudvayne and even Disturbed to a lesser extent are the only few I could think of from the scene that have enough basic elements to be consider as metal while still having the balance of being unique musically and appeal to the masses at the same time.

I think current definition is very meaningful, but I'm not sure if the original doesn't have the quality of being particularly worthy. Overall, when you say you listen to metal in front of the Baby Boomers, they might say "Oh, you like Van Halen and AC/DC." rather than mentioning Megadeth and Cannibal Corpse. I'm pretty sure Gen X know about the original, but I don't think most people in my generation and even the Zers do.


Jul 17, 2019
At large, am tall.
I'm 50 and was fortunate enough to grow up with a father who played everything, from Little Richard to Iron Butterfly. He often had CDs of popular bands before I did, when I was a teen.

Black Sabbath is generally considered the progenitor and father of metal...the first band that used distortion in virtually all of their songs, was guitar-based, heavy basslines, and driving rhythms. There may have been bands who played an occasional song similar to the genre before them, but Sabbath was the first band who really did nothing but songs in that genre.

Now, much like every other genre of music, metal has hundreds of sub-genres. That doesn't disqualify Sabbath or other early metal bands from being metal. Everyone has a center from which they define things, and everyone is entitled to their opinion...but I tend to follow music historians with this kind of thing. Besides, I absolutely love New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands like Maiden, who will always be my favorite metal band.


Aug 30, 2014
Oh the memories
Some dude who was fixing my comp reported me to my dad for listening to stuff like Blink and Limp Bizkit.

Dixon Steele

Jun 29, 2019
Behind you
I'm 45, I got into metal via the hard rock of the 80's, branched out into Iron Maiden, Judas Priest the NWOBHM stuff. An art teacher in high school gave me the first 5 Black Sabbath albums to listen to. I still love that stuff now.

The OP mentions grunge. The odd thing is a lot of those grunge bands were inspired and into metal and hard rock. Pearl Jam's main guitar player can shred his arse off, their stage dynamics are metal, Soundgarden are very Sabbath & Zeppelin at times, Alice In Chains is more metal than grunge. To me that stuff was metal in a Grunge outfit to suit the times.

I have to admit though I get bemused by a lot of the terms, even the ones back then. They come up with all of these descriptions for the sound and when I hear it a lot of the time I think "Yeah, ok they call it grindcore but it sounds a lot like metal to me". I am also not big on the idea of everything being heavy. Like the growling vocals, I like the Sabbath concept of making some parts lighter to contrast and make other parts sound heavier. I like soft/melodic vocals over heavy guitars, distorted riffs playing melodic tunes etc.

Just hearing a wall of noise complete with cookie monster vocals doesn't do much for me.

I am ranting now because I am tired but that is what I like I guess. I don't pay much attention to the sub genre names anymore because I think it is just marketing and bullshit to try and set one sound apart from another even though in the end a lot of the bands sound much the same now.
The Roleplayer

The Roleplayer

Oct 2, 2018
I can’t blame anyone for not looking at music-related terms, but they’re kinda useful if you’re looking for something that sounds new and innovative to ya.


Dec 26, 2018
Perspectives from a 20 year old metal guitarist/bassist...

I'm not sure how I feel about the extreme amount of subgenres anymore. On one hand it's useful for me. If I tell a potential bandmate that I want to make a funeral doom project, it makes that a lot easier to find a like-minded person. But then today I was talking to a friend who goes on this rant about something he calls "Nu-death thrash" and was completely lost... Sounds like we're just making shit up now.

I think more attention needs to be paid to the earliest metal bands, "proto-metal" or whatever you want to call it. Blue Cheer, Sir Lord Baltimore, Leaf Hound, etc. Some great shit there. But we all know Sabbath started everything. I know I'm in the minority here, most people my age have never heard of these great bands. More fun for me I guess?
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