Some of the greatest pioneers of music have been metal artists, ever since the inception of the genre. Black Sabbath, widely credited with creating heavy metal started as a blues band called Earth. Their self-titled debut album, with a song of the same name as the band, featured a riff now called the devil’s tritone. While Black Sabbath is mainly known for slow, heavy riffs and Ozzy Osbourne’s wailing vocals, their songwriting was up to par with rock legends such as Pink Floyd. Their lyrics included everything from Christian messages, political ideologies, drug endorsements, or songs with other relevant themes. Laguna Sunrise is a masterpiece with no lyrics, just classical instruments. Of course, we can’t mention their art without naming one Ronnie James Dio. Heaven and Hell is considered a classic even decades after its release. Dio is widely considered one of the most gifted songwriters of the 1980s as well. Everywhere he went, he was a success. Dio didn’t just sing and entertain crowds, his words told stories and could create a mental picture. He captured your attention and mesmerized millions.
After Black Sabbath, Ozzy Ozbourne wrote many classic songs during his solo run. Goodbye To Romance was the first song he wrote with legendary axeman Randy Rhoads and bassist Bob Daisley. This is one of the hidden gems of the breakup song category. Crazy Train is known to many as just a fun song with great guitar work. In reality, it’s about the cold war. It encourages love and turning against hate. The song also shows how divided we can be in this crazy life while dealing with the pressures of everyday life. Decades later, the message is still relevant.
Many metal bands took religious themes and added them to their message. Some like Stryper, Skillet, and P.O.D. used their platform for Christianity. They would either mention God by name or use parallels to where it was obvious what they were singing about, without beating audiences over the head with it. Shockingly, most Christian metal fans are actually secular.
On the other side, metal can be satanic. Marilyn Manson and Slayer are known for aggressive, shocking lyrics and imagery. Their message is clearly the opposite of what bands like Stryper stand for. Black metal is also known for being demonic with a huge shock factor. It also has stereotypes such as growling, upside-down crosses, and black and white face paint.
Emo metal focuses more on emotion. It often deals with themes of death and depression. Many emo songs also have a light at the end of the tunnel theme. It encourages people to fight on and never quit. At the same time, many of the songs are written from the singer’s personal experiences, thus making the message more relatable.
Symphonic metal brings classical music together with heavy riffs and often screams. Many of the musicians here grew up with a classical music background. A noticeable amount of the vocalists also had opera training. This adds to the emotion and atmosphere of their art. This makes for mindblowing live performances, as showcased by Nightwish and Evanescence. It often goes hand in hand with power metal, as the screams can be theatrical. It also has some of the cleanest vocals, as opposed to screamo. This way the vocals draw you in while the instrument play enhances it, rather than it just being about being heavy and loud.
Hair metal-infused a lot of pop at times with makeup. A lot of songs in this category had many songs that could range from soft rock to pop, to power metal. While some outfits were silly beyond reason, the musicianship was usually more than enough to overlook the wardrobe designing crisis of the ’80s. The pop vocals, high energy, and loud catchy songs have been highly effective in kawaii (Japanese word meaning cute) metal. This is part of what makes the band Babymetal so successful.
Metal has more variety than either pop or country music. In most cases, it features superior guitar work for the most part. Of all the musical genres besides gospel, (the ones not in it for the fame) headbangers are among the most passionate. Today far too many talented artists are overlooked because a bunch of “musicians” considered cute can autotune their way into success. Many use as few instruments as possible. Many also use nonsensical lyrics that just are catchy. To be fair, hair metal did a lot of that, but the instrumental work usually more than made up for that.
Ed Sheeran is one of the best-selling artists in history. In only 4 albums his singles and record sales made him one of the best-selling musicians of all time. While he is talented, it’s not like his vocals and guitar work blow Michael Sweet out of the water. Taylor Swift is a good vocalist, but is she really better than Amy Lee? Nicki Minaj isn’t better than Hayley Williams. Tarja Turunen has some of the best pipes in music today, but are mostly unknown in the states. However, is a foreign pop star or group uses simple lyrics and has sex appeal American’s seem to fawn over them. Some are great at what they do, some can barely sing. Others rely on effects to have the energy cover any weaknesses they may have. Most modern artists don’t come close to Dio or Jani Lane. For example, if you listen to Lady Gaga and Floor Jansen, both have amazing voices, but only one will be worshipped by American mainstream music.
Unfortunately music today seems to be about finding a catchy, simple rhythm more than about the passion. Many of the best artists will never make it big because of this. It’s about profit now. While as a musician you shouldn’t be LOSING money, when everything is a cash grab, or about an agenda, or 300 songs about a girl’s big booty, it gets dull. As a result, the music suffers. If an artist knows they are considered sexy and that a certain formula works, they can essentially do the same thing over and over. This leaves less room for the music to evolve. Many bands like Stryper, Red, Thousand Foot Krutch, and others aren’t getting rich but commit decades to their craft, experimenting with sounds and having passionate fanbases, only to be ignored by radio. Stryper even went bankrupt, while both radio stations and televangelists boycotted them. They endured mocking and to this day the Christian music industry largely ignores them. As a broke outcast, Michael Sweet ended up working as a park ranger for over a decade! Oz Fox became a warehouse manager! Over a decade later they reformed and have enjoyed much critical acclaim in their second run. It’s about passion, doing what you love. Not about making a quick buck.
“Mama I’m Coming Home” by Ozzy Ozbourne isn’t the greatest vocal performance, but it’s beautiful because of the passion. Music like that is amazing. But why listen to it when a sub-par singer can wiggle their butt for a Grammy? Why feel emotion when we can sing about sex and drugs? Oh, wait, metal and rock did that DECADES ago and STILL put in more effort! Yet they could still add emotion.
As long as we have metal, we have art in the musical world. It is a fire that refuses to stop burning. This isn’t unlike when a book is far better than the movie based on it, but the special effects wow everyone. Today’s industry reminds me of when someone pays 3 million dollars for a canvas with a smear on it. Or a simple green dot. Or someone put paint in their nose and sneezed. Many of the people that buy those “masterpieces” seem to have the same attitude as many (but not all) pop fans. They often dismiss other works without checking them out. “So and so is superior” to “this and that”. While I hate pop for the most part I also acknowledge and respect the stars that put in the effort. Metal isn’t really profitable like in years past, so those that create it have to love what they are doing. This is why I love a lot of underground groups. Metal is art and has some of the greatest performers and producers ever involved. I just wish it got the respect it deserves.
Article by John Ward