Metal Machine – The tribute to heavy metal
Black Sabbath is often credited with nothing less than the “invention” of Heavy Metal. What the quartet of Iommi, Butler, Ward and Osbourne created at the turn of the 1970s was to influence the music world, and they have been doing that for over half a century now.
Through their characteristic slow but heavy guitar riffs, and powerful, often aggressive drumming, the band broke out of the limitations set by Blues and Stoner–Hippie Rock of the times. Instead, they built their sound on entrancing, even psychedelic rhythms, amplified by dark but meaningful lyrics, and brought to life by the demonic voice of Ozzy. It was guitarist, Tony Iommi who gave Sabbath its unique guitar riffs. He was once told he would never play guitar again after losing two fingertips working in a steel mill. Since Iommi could not feel the strings with his homemade prosthetic fingertips, nor bend heavier gauge ones, he came up with a unique style of play involving lighter strings and down tuning, which gave a distinctive sound to his songs and riffs that you can hear on tracks like “Children of the Grave”. With that song, Sabbath also buried the overly optimistic, wishful thinking of the Hippie generation, and presented their audience lyrics and themes that indulged a gloomy, even outright pessimistic outlook on life and its many perils.
Early Sabbath, with albums such as “Paranoid” and “Master of Reality”, challenged both conservative values and the self-proclaimed counterculture. Much of it was anti-authoritarian, especially during the Vietnam War era. The debate if it was generally more acceptable to call a song “Walpurgis” or “Warpigs” gives you an idea of the times. This new music was weird. It was dark and enticing, and it certainly scared parents and Christian groups, but it also dominated record shops for the next decade, with Sabbath albums going platinum almost instantly. To this day, Black Sabbath’s sound remains unparalleled and unchallenged. Those antiheroes of the 70s, whose greatest hits are by now overplayed by every radio station and car commercial known to man, remain the institution that began it all, and who paved the way for Heavy Metal to come.
Throughout the 70s, Metal was still trying to find its sound, outside of traditional Rock, groovy Blues and the newly emerging Punk. One band that began setting the tone was Judas Priest. Led by the glass-shattering high vocal screams of frontman, Rob Halford, Priest’s sound got faster and heavier with each new album. Like many British Heavy Metal Bands at the time, they proudly embodied the old working-class flair of their hometowns. Rock music in general was to be freeing and invigorating after a hard day’s work. And for Judas Priest, this was best embodied by the biker culture, which was deeply attached to classic hard rock. Overdressed in denim and leather outfits, the band delivered one jawbreaker after the other, further defining the sound of Heavy Metal with the fast-paced power of double guitars, which were seemingly screaming for vengeance.
But despite the success and strong influence Priest had on the music, the band also suffered its fair share of controversies. As former and future vocalist and full time “Metal God” Halford came out as gay in the late 90s, it shed light on the unsavory side of the Heavy Metal scene back in the day. Halford dealt with depression and alcoholism, as he was unable to come to terms with his sexuality because of the overly macho culture Heavy Metal portrayed. Even in the late 90s, he still feared that he would lose a significant number of fans after coming out.
Another controversy surrounding the band was the attempted suicide of two young men in 1985. The band was eventually dragged to court, as the media tried to link the cause of their suicidal thoughts to the “harmful” influence of Heavy Metal. Judas Priest was accused of putting subliminal messages of “Do it” in their cover of the song “Better by you, better than me”. This really demonstrated how parts of society still viewed Heavy Metal as some sort of poisonous influence on the young, though, as Halford pointed out, getting their fans to commit suicide would be counterproductive, and if they were going to use subliminal messages, they’d say “buy more records”. Despite all of this, even now after more than 50 years in business, Judas Priest is still going strong, and their new works have lost none of the old touch.
What Priest delivered in the early 80s brought life to a whole new era of Heavy Metal. Although it was at a time when many record publishers saw Punk and Post Punk as the new money maker in town, the Heavy Metal genre had finally emerged. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal began to dominate the scene, and at the forefront stood a band called Iron Maiden, with a dangerously sinister looking creature with a ’nice guy’ name on their debut album… and all of their albums to follow.
Under the guiding hand of Steve Harris, Maiden took the influences of Progressive Rock and current British Punk, and mixed it with a fast-paced, melodic Heavy Metal sound. Throughout the 80s, Iron Maiden fans, long haired and clad in denim, banged their heads to neck-breaking rhythms and sang alongside the air-siren of then singer, Bruce Dickinson. Albums like “Powerslave” or “Somewhere in Time” became instant classics. Iron Maiden also had a soft spot for historical figures or mythological themes. From Genghis Khan to Alexander the Great to the Crimean War, songs about matters of life and death became a hallmark of their lyrical writing. For example, the words of Churchill’s famous “blood, toils, sweat and tears” speech were used as an opener for Iron Maiden shows for years.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles…
While the world focused on the heavy metal scene in Great Britain, a young Danish drummer by the name of Lars Ulrich aspired to start his own band in Los Angeles. Through an ad in a newspaper, he got in contact with guitarist and vocalist, James Hetfield. Together they birthed Metallica. But while the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was running wild abroad, much of the hard and heavy stuff in the states was still deeply bound to the underground. There, Metallica’s unconventional sound soon became a household staple. Back then, they encouraged the free trade and copying of their cassette tapes, as mouth to mouth propaganda was the best way to spread the word. Their demo, “No life til leather”, quickly became a fan favourite and also led to their first record deal. Breaking away from the Hair- and Glam-Metal infested Los Angeles, Metallica’s debut album “Kill em all” became the new benchmark for the American Metal scene.
With Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer, thrash metal developed. With rapid shredding riffs and a violence on the drums that would make a lumberjack jealous, Thrash was to attract a whole new audience that longed for an even faster and heavier sound. With the release of “Master of Puppets”, Metallica elevated itself to world-wide renown. Later releases of “and Justice for all” broke all record sales for American underground metal, and songs like “Enter Sandman” and “Nothing Else Matters” became worldwide chart toppers.
Only a few bands have the luck and skill to be successful enough to live off their music, but Metallica had fully embraced the new ways of marketing and distributing of CDs and merchandise. With the advent of musical videos on MTV, they became the embodiment of Heavy Metal. Even people who had never heard a single Heavy Metal song in their lives, knew of Metallica, as every magazine or award show had the band covered. But with worldwide fame, came a time of controversy. Metallica began to change in the 90s. The band took off its leather jackets, cut off the long hair, and overall, played a sound more akin to Hard Rock than Heavy Metal. Many of their old traditional fans of the earlier, violent Thrash Metal albums felt alienated by the new sound, and Metallica itself plunged into a creative crisis. Nonetheless, to this day, Metallica remains one of the biggest and most successful bands in the world, attracting thousands upon thousands of fans to each of their shows.
But while they were among the most successful, the award for the loudest might go to another. After working as a roadie for Black Sabbath, bassist Joey DeMaio was looking forward to starting his own band, but unlike Sabbath’s gloomy and oppressive sound, his own band, Manowar, was to be the exact opposite. It was to be Power Metal to its core. Unlike the high shrieks or acid-like low growls of other genres, Power Metal was defined by clear vocals and a more symphonic sound. Power Metal, DeMaio thought, was also perfect for telling grandiose stories, for plunging deep into the world of fantasy and mythology. Manowar’s trademark style was bound to epic tales of war and glory, of driving badass motorcycles and fighting medieval fantasy battles. Their album covers could have been straight out of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, with music videos that would make even die-hard dungeons and dragons fans blush.
Unironically, Manowar styled themselves as muscle bound warriors, armed with medieval swords and axes, and often clad in nothing more than leather loincloths. This was to be true and pure Heavy Metal. Manowar songs were also meant to inspire and encourage people to find their own way in life. They wanted to play Battle Hymns loud enough to blow your speakers, and no music critic would tell them otherwise. Born of Black, Wind, Fire and Steel, the band rejected any sort of MTV promotion, and instead built its success on one of the most loyal and dedicated fan bases in the scene.
Our song ‘ Metal Machine ‘, which is featured on our album, Primo Victoria, is a fun tribute to Metal, using song titles from other Metal bands to make the lyrics. Take a look at the lyrics we wrote here.
If you’re interested in a more visual interpretation of the above story, watch our Sabaton History episode, Metal Machine – The Tribute to Heavy Metal: