–A British Commodity
Heavy Metal is a genre, subculture, lifestyle and phenomenon that is decidedly British. Whilst many of the movement’s most famous names in the present day are American; the most extreme factions are Norwegian, or the most surprising ones are Nepalese- the biggest, earliest, pioneers derived from the UK.
With a shelf life, shock-value and fan-devotion far succeeding Punk, we wanted to give the globally misunderstand but fearsomely worshipped scene a bit of love. This is our list of top British Heavy Metal bands. These are the bands who forged the key gears that would go onto become the slick machine that is Heavy Metal. For a bit of fun, we have whittled down the vital aspects of their careers that contributed the most to the overarching world of \m/
Black Sabbath 1968
One of the more tongue-in-cheek stories in music history lies with Black Sabbath. Prior to the band forming in 1968 in Birmingham, guitar legend Tony Iommi worked in a sheet metal factory. He got into an accident that saw him lose two fingers and left him concerned that he may never play music again. His line manager at the factory encouraged him to listen to the guitar playing of Django Reinhardt, a famed jazz musician who had also lost two fingers in an accident. Clearly inspired by what he heard, Tony melted down a Fairy Liquid bottle into two prosthetic fingertips. He adjusted the strings on his guitar accordingly, and it wasn’t long before he went on to form the world’s most influential Heavy Metal band. Now isn’t that just the most Metal thing you’ve ever heard?
In a nutshell, these small modifications led to Tony dropping his guitar tuning, helping to birth the Drop D sound that defines the Metal sound. He noted too, that guitar strings only came in one weight, so he came to pioneer the use of lighter weight strings after he had some commissioned. As a band, they shadowed dropped tuning with dropped acid, which arguably gave them a groovier, psychedelic edge to contrast the heaviness of their sound. That, fused with a mission to create the music version of a horror film, left half of the world horrified and the other enthralled. All at a time where flower power was at it’s uttermost mainstream presence.
The list of bands that look up to Black Sabbath is endless- you’d be hard to find a band that plays Metal and didn’t listen to them. But beyond the Metal genre, Black Sabbath are present in Grunge, Stoner and Alternative Rock. Love them or hate them, the Osbournes are a household name and our opinion: a national treasure.
Led Zeppelin 1968
Myth and Legend
Led Zeppelin- having written some of the world’s heaviest, most anthemic tunes of all time, ironically they remain by fair the world’s nerdiest band. Forming in London in 1968, you have to understand how heavy they sounded, in the context of the time. Moreover, they achieved eight consecutive number one albums in the UK, and have prestigious awards up to their bouffant hair.
Their sound grew from Blues, Country and Folk music. Jimmy Page pioneered the use of loud and quiet to great effect, which he called ‘light and shade’. Each member of the band were excellent instrumentalists independently: John Bonham’s drumming was rib-shakingly mighty, John Paul Jones’ rhythm was undeniable ‘groovy’, whilst Robert Plant’s howling and wailing is iconically erotic. Together, they were a powerful group- and enlightened the world on just how heavy things can get. So. Why are we calling them nerdy…? Well, aside from the two-necked guitar- debatably the geekiest thing ever- their lyrics were loaded with references to Lord of the Rings, amongst other nerd-alerts. Plant was keen on history, myth, and Page was into the Occult. That, a few loaded references to unrequited love equalize the accusations of them sparking ‘Cock Rock’. They were a band of freaks and geeks- but it worked. Myth remains a fundamental aspect of Heavy Metal- you have got to know your fables and fairytales to rule this kingdom. Thanks to Led Zeppelin for openly singing about hobbits and wizards- it has been instrumental to a number of factions of the Metal scene.
Judas Priest 1969
Style and Image
Heavy Metal would not in the least be the Metal we know and love it to be if it weren’t for Judas Priest. Aside from contributing some absolute belters to the genre, our favourite Judas Priest donation to the scene has to be style. Forming in West Bromwich in the summer of love, most Heavy Metal bands looked a lot like Led Zeppelin in 1969. Flares, flower power shirts and big corkscrew hair reigned in mode, and Judas Priest were no exception. Fans followed suit, and there wasn’t much to distinguish a Hippy from a Headbanger.
That is until Rob Halford- voracious vocalist for Judas Priest- decided to do things his way. In 1978 they were three albums in and just released Killing Machine- known as Hell Bent for Leather in the states (clue). Halford rolled onto the stage on a Harley Davidson- with a microphone in one hand and leather whip in another. The Crowd. Went. Wild. He and the band had ditched the floral and corduroy for studs, spikes and full leather. They decked the stage in pyrotechnics and smoke machines. This was a crazy-pivotal moment in Subculture history- and the insanity for studded leather spread like wildfire. This was the most macho display of masculinity the world had ever seen! Fans and followers suited and booted up, and every band to follow adopted the new Metal uniform. But it wasn’t until 1998 that Halford came out as gay- and the whole thing came together. The inspiration for the costume was derived from underground Gay and BDSM clubs- surely nothing like what the fans expected. To us, it remains one of the most poetic moments in Subculture history. Thank you Rob Halford.
Hailing from London in 1975- Motörhead rung in a new generation of Heavy Metal- though Lemmy would hate us for saying so. He famously hated Metal Music. Musically, it was their involvement and interest in the burgeoning Punk scene that saw them create music with speed- literally and figuratively. Lemmy insisted it was just Rock’n’Roll- but genre aside it shaped helped British music and subculture. It was fast paced and overwhelming reckless- paving the way for Thrash and Speed Metal. But we will feel their most notable input into the genre has to be lifestyle they purveyed. Motörhead were huge proponents of heavy drinking, hard drugs and heaps of women. Famously sleeping with between 1-2000 women in his lifetime and drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels a day- Lemmy certainly sey the mould for future Metalheads to come. On getting sick, he was instructed to lessen his drinking to a mere bottle of red wine a day- because if he stopped it was plausible he’d die from withdrawal. Even the name Motörhead even derives from a nickname for amphetamines. In the end, Lemmy lived fast and didn’t die young- and achieved more in his lifetime than many.
Just one look at the cast of the 2010 film of his life: Lemmy, demonstrates how influential and beloved Mötorhead were and still are.
Iron Maiden 1975
Definitely one of the most prolific bands of all time, Iron Maiden formed in 1975 in Leyton, East London. Between then and now, they have released a staggering 38 albums, and performed over a heart-stopping number of 2000 live shows. Like- and inspired by- Black Sabbath, horror was key component in their work. Like most of these bands, they weren’t immune to accusations of Satanism either. Aside from being a fantastically influential band- we love how they became one of the world’s most well thought out brands. Whether you listen to them or not, we all know who Eddie is. In hindsight, their manager Rod Smallwood couldn’t have been more spot-on when he decided the band needed ‘that one figure who utterly stamped his presence and image on the band in a way that was obvious enough to make a good album cover’, which is exactly what they got. Eddie’s earliest beginnings were as a paper-Mache head that squirted blood onto the stage. Being East London lads- ‘the head’ sounded like ‘Ed’, and the name just stuck. It was only upon meeting Derek Riggs that Eddie became an illustrated icon that would adorn every album, poster, and t-shirt. He even starred in video games and on the side of an airplane. Which… brings us to our next favourite thing about Iron Maiden- Ed Force One. In an effort to reach parts of the world that were normally too logistically impossible to get to, the band chartered and converted an airplane in typical Maiden style. With Bruce Dickinson flying, this meant that the band could reach their audience in places that would normally be deprived of their presence. Oh, and by the by- Dickinson’s bio is worth getting into alone, with him running a brewery, an airline, a radio show, fencing and writing screenplays.