Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Early Heavy Metal
I've been a huge Black Sabbath fan since I was an awkward 7th grade boy. I got into Ozzy's solo stuff first because Down To Earth had just come out, which is actually a really good album. Then I got the Ozzman Cometh best of which had two early Sabbath demos of "Black Sabbath" and "War Pigs." When I heard the riff from "Black Sabbath" I fell in love. I knew I needed to immediately go out get all of their albums. Ozzy, Tony, Geezer, and Bill have been a huge part of my life ever since. Every time I'm walking or biking around at night, I listen to Black Sabbath or Masters of Reality. From the 1970 debut all the way to Heaven and Hell with Ronnie James Dio, I've spent more hours than I could possibly ever recount listening to Sabbath. After a while I started to wonder where this music came from, who were the bands that were playing this heavy music who influenced Sabbath, and which other bands from the 70s were playing this heavy music at the same time or slightly after. Sabbath are called the fathers of heavy metal, but it couldn't have come out of nowhere. I was a little surprised when I found out where Sabbath got there sound from (though now that I'm older and wiser it makes perfect sense)...it came from the blues.
Sabbath started out as a blues band who experimented with heavy riffs. From there, I started to discover other heavy bands based in the blues, namely Blue Cheer. Blue Cheer formed in 1966 in San Francisco and were extremely radical in that they combined the blues with hard rock and psychedelia. Some of you might be saying to yourself, it's not that radical, Cream were doing it at the same time...Well, Blue Cheer were doing it much heavier and freakier than Cream. They could go from a straight ahead blues rock tune to the craziest, distorted freakouts being made at that time. Their first two albums, Vincebus and Outside Inside, both released in 1968, are essential listening. No other band at the time or since has done it quite like Blue Cheer, and every band based in blues rock, especially the entire stoner metal scene with bands such as Monster Magnet, Kyuss, Fu Manchu, etc. owe a lot to Blue Cheer for paving the way more than 40 years ago.
Then there was the MC5. Though the MC5 are considered more of a proto-punk band than a proto-metal band like Blue Cheer, they used the blues as a starting point for creating something much heavier which is why I would argue they were both. All you have to do is listen to "Borderline" "I Want You Right Now" and "Come Together" to hear what I'm talking about. Though all three of their albums are great, their 1969 live debut Kick Out The Jams is essential, and fits the proto-metal sound I'm talking about best. (I reviewed this album in my 1969 article).
Now fast forward one year. The '60s are over, having officially died on December 6, 1969 at the Altamont festival organized by the Rolling Stones. With this new decade came heavier music. Black Sabbath released their first two albums in 1970. Two other bands also released their debut albums in 1970, and these albums should have been huge but for some reason just faded into obscurity. The first was Wishbone Ash, a British rock band formed in 1969. Their self titled debut album released in 1970 was grounded in the blues but it had an edge to it that set it apart from the other British blues rock bands of their time, such as Fleetwood Mac and Cream. It was heavier than what was going on in pop music but today it just sounds more like a blues rock album than a hard rock album because of how hard rock and metal have progressed. The band also sported two lead guitarists. Their twin lead format was really incredible and the vocals were very bluesy. Their first album, which sported 6 songs in 42 minutes was their crowning achievement. After this album they moved on to softer territory incorporating folk into their sound, and from then on they were never as heavy again.
The second band, Sir Lord Baltimore, formed in 1968 in Brooklyn. They released two albums, Kingdom Come and Sir Lord Baltimore in 1970 and 1971 respectively. These guys were HEAVY. They, along with Sabbath, were some of the first people to get really heavy and write bone crunching, distorted riffs. They also straddled the line, keeping it really bluesy while also making it distinctly heavy metal, as you can hear on heavy metal blues freakouts "I Got A Woman" and "Hell Hound" off the first album. In addition, they also did straight up heavy metal in songs like "Kingdom Come" from the first album and "Where Are We Goin" and "Woman Tamer" from the second album. These two albums are incredible from start to finish. They were both reissued on one CD, but that reissue is long out of print. If you ever come across a copy, GET IT.
There was another band who embodied the early heavy metal sound perfectly. They were second only to Black Sabbath themselves. The band was called Pentagram. I felt they deserved their own article, so stay tuned for more 70's metal, because if you were at all interested in this article you'll need to hear about Pentagram...