The first heavy metal bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath attracted large audiences, though they were often derided by critics, a status common throughout the history of the genre. In the mid-1970s Judas Priest helped spur the genre's evolution by discarding much of its blues influence; Motörhead introduced a punk rock sensibility and an increasing emphasis on speed. Bands in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal such as Iron Maiden followed in a similar vein. Before the end of the decade, heavy metal fans became known as "Metalheads" or "Headbangers".
During the 1980s, glam metal became a commercial force with groups like Mötley Crüe and Poison. Underground scenes produced an array of more extreme, aggressive styles: thrash metal broke into the mainstream with bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax, while other styles of the most extreme subgenres of metal like death metal and black metal remain subcultural phenomena. Since the mid-1990s, popular styles such as Groove metal and nu metal (Pantera and Slipknot), which often incorporates elements of grunge and hip hop; and metalcore, which blends extreme metal with hardcore punk, have further expanded the definition of the genre.
Antecedents: 1950s to mid-1960s
Heavy metal's quintessential guitar style, built around distortion-heavy riffs and power chords, traces its roots to early 1950s Memphis electric blues guitarists such as Joe Hill Louis, Willie Johnson, and particularly Pat Hare, who captured a "grittier, nastier, more ferocious electric guitar sound" on records such as James Cotton's "Cotton Crop Blues" (1954); the late 1950s instrumentals of Link Wray, particularly "Rumble" (1958); the early 1960s surf rock music of Dick Dale, including "Let's Go Trippin'" (1961) and "Misirlou" (1962); and The Kingsmen's version of "Louie, Louie" (1963), which made it a garage rock standard.
However, the genre's direct lineage begins in the mid-1960s. American blues music was a major influence on the early British rockers of the era. Bands like The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds developed blues rock by recording covers of many classic blues songs, often speeding up the tempos. As they experimented with the music, the UK blues-based bands—and the U.S. acts they influenced in turn—developed what would become the hallmarks of heavy metal, in particular, the loud, distorted guitar sound. The Kinks played a major role in popularizing this sound with their 1964 hit "You Really Got Me".
In addition to The Kinks' Dave Davies, other guitarists such as The Who's Pete Townshend and The Yardbirds' Jeff Beck were experimenting with feedback. Where the blues rock drumming style started out largely as simple shuffle beats on small kits, drummers began using a more muscular, complex, and amplified approach to match and be heard against the increasingly loud guitar. Vocalists similarly modified their technique and increased their reliance on amplification, often becoming more stylized and dramatic. In terms of sheer volume, especially in live performance, The Who's "bigger-louder-wall-of-Marshalls" approach was seminal.
The combination of blues rock with psychedelic rock formed much of the original basis for heavy metal. One of the most influential bands in forging the merger of genres was the British power trio Cream, who derived a massive, heavy sound from unison riffing between guitarist Eric Clapton and bassist Jack Bruce, as well as Ginger Baker's double bass drumming. Their first two LPs, Fresh Cream (1966) and Disraeli Gears (1967), are regarded as essential prototypes for the future style. The Jimi Hendrix Experience's debut album, Are You Experienced (1967), was also highly influential. Hendrix's virtuosic technique would be emulated by many metal guitarists and the album's most successful single, "Purple Haze", is identified by some as the first heavy metal hit.
During the late sixties, many psychedelic singers such as Arthur Brown, began to create outlandish, theatrical and often macabre performances; which in itself became incredibly influential to many metal acts. Vanilla Fudge, whose first album also came out in 1967, has been called "one of the few American links between psychedelia and what soon became heavy metal."
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