Part 1 of a 2-part series.
What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black which points at me
Turn around quick, and start to run
Find out I'm the chosen one
Big black shape with eyes of fire
Telling people their desire
Satan's sitting there, he's smiling
Watches those flames get higher and higher
Oh no, no, please God help me!
Is it the end, my friend?
Satan's coming 'round the bend
people running 'cause they're scared
the people better go and beware!
No, no, please, no!
[Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath]
Black Sabbath singlehandedly invented Heavy Metal. From the first drops of rain, church bell and thunder, almost every fan of the Devil’s music can instantly recognise the even more thunderous opening riff of the opening title track of Black Sabbath's nefarious self-titled debut LP.
Whilst some could point to Steppenwolf's coining of the term 'Heavy Metal' in their 1968 hit Born to Be Wild, or indeed several of Cream's monumental riffs, few would argue that Friday 13 February, 1970 - the day that saw Black Sabbath’s debut album released in a cold and wet Birmingham, England - symbolised the unholy birth of the Heavy Metal genre.
Fast forward 11 years and over 200 miles to 1981, Newcastle, England, we see yet another unholy birth, this time of the extreme Metal genre with trio Conrad Lant, Jeffrey Dunn and Anthony Bray, better known as Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon, and collectively known as Venom.
As the decade wore on, metal aimed at being both the fastest it possibly could - Napalm Death's classic Scum (1987) squeezing 40 songs into little over half an hour, being a fine example, or the slowest, with Winter's masterpiece Into Darkness (1990) making Black Sabbath sound like a speed Metal band.
As the 80s became the 90s, Metal became increasingly synonymous with its sub genres - thrash, death, black, doom - with bands becoming heavier than the, now perceived dated, Metal espoused by early genre leaders such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Now perceived dated by some, both Maiden and Priest struggled to keep up creatively with their more extreme counterparts, losing their singers in the process (each seeking out solo careers: one with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor as producer, the other Sub Pop's Jack Endino).
Even Metallica - arguably the biggest metal band of them all - seemed to forget the first five letters of their name after the release of their Black Album in 1991. Black Sabbath was similarly reduced to collaborating with Ice-T in a failed quest to retain any degree of relevancy. It was even more brutal for the Heavy Metal bands such as Mötley Crüe and Poison, who were unceremoniously slaughtered Einsatzgruppen-style, making way for the new Grunge movement spearheaded by the likes of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.
Metal hasn’t always evolved to survive: in many cases it has mutated, using external sounds for inspiration. Such mutations largely alienated many older fans, who perceived the cutting of hair and laying down of leathers as an impurity, far from the ‘True Metal’ that they so wholeheartedly championed.
Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C.'s 1986 rap-rock hit Walk This Way wasn't simply a one-off. Many bands such as Rage Against the Machine and Clawfinger have now made a career from meshing together these two dynamic genres. In stark contrast to rap-rock, bands such as Ministry, Godflesh and countless others have instead mixed Industrial sounds with their Metal. For Celtic Frost, it was the avant-garde, and with Faith No More, it really was a little bit of (almost) everything.
The above list of genre-mixed Metal is far from exhaustive and even today, the likes of Babymetal continue to look for 'new' genres like J-POP to inject into their Metal. Drone Metal holy cows, Sunn O))), even collaborated with 60s legend Scott Walker in something that was ultimately close to sacrilegious.
Obviously there’s only a finitude of genres in existence for Metal to borrow from, in an attempt to create something new. Other bands, old and new alike, follow the recycling formula of mixing 80s guitars with 90s growls, adding modern production and so-forth to reinvent something fresh. But is all this enough or has the creativity in Metal become truly exhausted? Is the devil’s genre still relevant or is this the symbolic end of the Metal we have known for largely the past 45 years?
Words: Brian Cooper
Image Source: Black Sabbath